Mind the gap: How FutureDotNow’s latest report can help businesses close their digital skills gap

A lot of us perceive digital as something spurring society into the great beyond. Digital is acceleration. It’s innovation. Transformation, even.

However, the latest insights say differently. Unique new evidence shows that a huge skills gap remains in the UK. This is something we see and talk about all the time, but I was fascinated to dive into the detail about the needs of the employed population after attending FutureDotNow’s Accelerate 2022 event a couple of weeks ago.

The event highlighted how, by 2030, the digital skills gap is set to become our biggest skills gap in the workplace. That means that millions of people don’t, and won’t, have the ability to keep up with the ever-changing online world. FutureDotNow have illustrated this clearly in their new report on digital skills in the workforce – ‘Unpacking The Hidden Middle – showing how many workers are not yet equipped with the very basic digital capability.

Last year, for example, 68% of the UK workforce were reported as unable to do one or more of the following tasks: check a payslip online; use collaborative tools to connect with fellow staff; and/or manage their privacy settings on social media.

And despite the Covid-19 pandemic progressing some workers’ digital skills, there are many people that remain digitally under-skilled. Nearly one in ten people currently in the workforce lack the very fundamentals of connecting to the internet. Even workers who are seemingly capable are part of a skills spectrum – some people can complete all 17 digital tasks deemed essential for work, whereas others can do just five

Based on such findings, FutureDotNow has evolved a new working population dataset, focusing on the c.30.3 million people in the workforce who have at least the Foundation Level of Essential Digital Skills.

A call to action for business across the UK

The whole report is an easy read and full of distinctive insight. I found their four workplace personas, who represent a broader set of employees with specific skills, needs and motivation, especially interesting. These personas are vital in supporting us to shape our support to these people, and ensure they can grow their digital skills and confidence. 

Take ​​Digitally Lacking Lou, a persona that has a typically lower digital ability and is less likely to feel secure in their job, as an example. Lou represents almost 12% of the UK population.

Their seven key calls to action make it clear what an organisation can do: 

  1. Share the report with your organisation’s senior leaders
  2. Prioritise cybersecurity
  3. Identify the digital skills gap in your organisation
  4. Acknowledge different user needs when designing your programmes
  5. Aim to build confidence, as well as capability
  6. Become part of the FutureDotNow movement
  7. Join the FutureDotNow Lighthouse Programme to take action fast.

Of course the biggest call to action is that all businesses and organisations have got employees with some digital skills gaps – and that’s something that all businesses and organisations can do something about.

If you’re interested in hearing more about FutureDotNow’s work head to their website. And for those businesses looking to really invest in closing the digital divide for good, do take a look at our new strategy too, launched last month.

We’re are looking for partners of all shapes and sizes to come on board and to help us take collective action to end digital exclusion – you can find out more here.

Together we can fix the digital divide: we need your help

Exactly two years ago today, I landed back in the UK from working in Australia and straight into self-enforced quarantine. The UK wasn’t officially in lockdown but we were closing our offices in Sheffield and Sydney, and many of our local community partners were closing their doors too. The pandemic was about to happen, we had no idea what was about to follow.

I’ve heard people say that the pandemic drove innovation at pace, and their business or public service delivered five years worth of digital transformation in five weeks. As a leading digital inclusion charity our priority was deciding how we needed to pivot to help people who were cut off as face to face services closed their doors and essential support went online. 

With Covid-19 wreaking havoc worldwide, the past two years have brought momentous change.

Fast forward and what have we learned and what are we doing differently? As an organisation, we have settled into 2022 with renewed focus. As we learn to live with Covid-19 and work out what the changes we’ve experienced mean, we’ve adapted to a simpler model to #FixTheDigitalDivide.

Digital skills and confidence are one of three key areas we now tackle.

We’re continuing our trailblazing work on data poverty and finding solutions for free or affordable internet. Based on findings from our Data Poverty Lab with Nominet, we are scaling the UK National Databank – like a foodbank, but with data. With Virgin Media O2 already on board, the beginning of 2022 saw Vodafone and Three join the contributors and provide data for the vulnerable adults we support. We have enough internet data to support 500,000 people!

Secondly, what began as an emergency response to the pandemic (as Devices Dot Now), is a fundamental part of our strategy. Since March 2020 we have distributed over 22,000 free devices, alongside data and skills support, and hearing the impact on people’s lives, we’re now developing a National Device Bank to bring to scale putting refurbished devices into the hands of the people who need it. 

And of course, the third key area is bringing this together with the amazing national digital inclusion network – the Online Centres – who can reach, motivate and support people who are digitally excluded in local communities. Digital inclusion is about people after all and what they can do with technology – it’s not about the technology itself. 

But in order to continue with our vision, we need your help.

The National Device Bank will allow us to provide a holistic offer of a refurbished device alongside mobile internet access to break down the barrier of lack of affordable access. Reconome is our national partner, expert in handling, security wiping, and repairing previously used technology. Together, we are creating a scaled solution that will fuel digital inclusion and benefit our planet.

But, without companies’ used technology the Device Bank will not exist. Already we have two global companies on track to help. But to reach the 2 million households who struggle to afford the internet we need many more employers to partner with us. 

  • If you’re a company who wants to donate devices, please fill out this form.
  • If you’re a community organisation, or a national charity with local branches, and want to be part of this movement for digital inclusion we’d love to hear from you. Find out more about joining the network here.
By working together, we can fix the digital divide. 

To Level Up we need to Fix The Digital Divide

Announced today, the long anticipated Levelling Up White Paper sets out the Government’s plans to address entrenched geographical inequality across the UK.

The White Paper sets out the key actions the Government intends to take to pursue this agenda, shaped into 12 missions that will be enshrined in law. These include some potentially positive ambitions, including a new Digital Education System, a shift to greater devolution, local skills improvements plans and a new strategy for Community Space and Relationships. The full white paper is a long one and we’ll continue digging into it.

At Good Things Foundation, since the start of the pandemic we’ve been calling on the Government to put digital inclusion at the heart of Covid-19 recovery, harness the appetite for change, and take decisive action to fix the digital divide. In this context, it’s disappointing that the Levelling Up White Paper doesn’t go further in committing to closing the digital divide.

Tackling digital exclusion is a vital part of levelling up. Figures from 2021 show that 92% of employers say a basic level of digital skills is important for their staff (WorldSkills UK, 2021), yet 8.7 million adults in the UK lack the essential digital skills required for work (Lloyds Banking Group, 2021). 

And – we know that increasing digital skills supports economic growth. An analysis we commissioned in 2018 – soon to be updated in 2022 – showed an estimated return on investment in digital inclusion of £15 per £1 invested – a net benefit to the UK economy over 10 years of over £21 billion.

Unless decisive action is taken, digital exclusion will remain a significant barrier to unleashing individuals’ potential, creating thriving communities and ensuring a prosperous economy.

Foundation digital skills and levelling up

The education sector will play an important role in tackling digital exclusion. Adults can now gain a first qualification in essential digital skills with full funding from the Government. It’s good to see this policy finally rolling out on the ground. It makes basic digital skills as essential as literacy and numeracy.

However, a high proportion of those without basic digital skills have not traditionally engaged with formal adult education opportunities. They frequently face a range of material and motivational barriers that will prevent them from simply ‘taking up training’: 40% of those who are offline earn less than £15k a year, and 47% of those offline ‘just aren’t interested’ in the internet and digital skills (Lloyds Consumer Digital Index, 2021).

That’s why the role of the community sector is vital. Across the country, our local community partners in left behind communities are helping people build their digital confidence and skills, and in the process their motivation and ability to learn. They are able to work with local people to build trust, make digital relevant, and help overcome the wide range of barriers that people can face, including lack of access to a device, sufficient connectivity data, and a lack of digital skills. In addition, through the Future Digital Inclusion programme – funded by the Department for Education – we saw very high levels of progression from this first tier support to further learning, including formal learning in the Further Education and training sector.

We’ve seen first hand the remarkable impact of community engagement on the lives and opportunities of those in greatest need. People such as Victoria

“I didn’t think I would be able to study online but getting the laptop and support to learn how to use it and the online courses has been amazing. I feel like I have more opportunities now.”

The Government has invested £560 million in the national Multiply programme to fix the failings of the formal education system for the 8 million adults with basic numeracy skills. Where is the parallel investment in basic digital skills?

A new model of digital skills in communities

Through the UK Community Renewal Fund, we’re running three pilots in the West Midlands, North of Tyne, and Greater Manchester to test a Community Digital Skills Pathway – a new model of basic digital skills delivered through partnership between the local and informal community sector and the formal education sector. 

By bringing together Online Centres (our local community partners) with Further Education colleges and adult and community learning services, the pilots aim to reach those who will not benefit from the Government’s policy of free formal courses in digital skills, build their digital confidence and engagement with learning, and support them to progress to positive skills and employment outcomes.

By rooting this work in communities, and focusing on empowerment and opportunity for those left behind, this model goes to the heart of the priorities set out in the White Paper – and we hope will provide an impactful, scalable model that Government can invest in as a vital pillar of levelling up, bringing together the best of the community and the education sector to help everyone succeed.

Levelling up needs digital inclusion

Fixing the digital divide is essential to realise the ambition of levelling up. It is not a sideshow, but a fundamental part of the economic and social fabric required to build opportunity, pride and growth.

Regional and local leaders recognise this. Both Andy Street in the West Midlands and Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester have made ambitious commitments to digital inclusion and have significant plans in place to deliver; and digital inclusion is a growing priority for many local authorities.

There are promising signs in the White Paper that greater devolution and further investment could allow regional and local areas to do more on digital inclusion, supporting and reinforcing wider policy priorities. It is now for the Government to show national leadership on this vital agenda, and the investment to match.

If the Government, and others, don’t prioritise fixing the digital divide we will never level up opportunities for the people who most need it.

Ten Ways We Worked To Fix The Digital Divide In 2021

As the year draws to an end, I’m providing you with my top ten moments of 2021 – befittingly, considering that Good Things celebrated our tenth birthday this month! And with us entering our next decade of work, I’ll not only be reflecting on what’s past but what I hope is in store for the future too.

1. We Turned Ten!

I can’t quite believe it. Ten years after setting up with just one government contract, we’re now a charity supporting thousands of community organisations both here in the UK and out in Australia. It makes me extremely proud (and a little bit tired) to think about it!

Our vision – though in different guises – has remained the same: a world where everyone can benefit from digital. To date, we’ve helped over 4 million people worldwide to cross the digital divide to improve their lives and I hope we can continue to have this impact and achieve our vision.

You can have a look at some of my highlights in my birthday blog, here.

Here’s our very first birthday cake. They got bigger and fancier by our third birthday!

2. Beginning Our Work Helping To End Data Poverty 

In 2021 we were delighted to start working with Nominet on a Data Poverty Lab to amplify, agitate and accelerate action towards ending data poverty. We’ve been working hard to discover what the challenges are and to discuss some of the solutions that are emerging. We’ve been listening hard to people with lived experience of data poverty, as well as politicians on the APPG for Data Poverty and meeting with industry leaders. 

One solution that came from the discussions of the Data Poverty Lab and Chris Ashworth at Nominet was a national “databank”, and thanks to the support of Virgin Media O2 I’m thrilled to say that we have launched the UK National Databank as of earlier this year.

So, what exactly is it? Well it’s like a foodbank, but for mobile internet data. The UK National Databank brings free mobile internet data connectivity to people who can’t afford it and who are often experiencing multiple inequalities. We’ll be supporting thousands of vulnerable people in communities across the UK to get connected, and we are already talking to other mobile operators to contribute data into the databank too.

I’ll let the adorable robots tell you more…

3. Get Online Week 2021

This year we ran another successful Get Online Week campaign, with the core message that everyone can ‘Get Online. Get Connected.’ I am delighted to say that we were able to reach over 34,000 people in the UK this year, something that would not have been possible without the passion and creativity of all of our event holders and community partners. It was a campaign that also took place across Australia, and has happened yearly out there since 2018!
To hear more about the incredible impact of the UK campaign, take a look at the Get Online Week 2021 campaign report.

4. Winning Internet Hero Of The Year

In November in one of my few face-to-face outings this year, I went to the ISPA Awards in a posh hotel in London. I was shortlisted by ISPA as their Internet Hero of the Year, and I was surprised and delighted to win. 

The prize was to recognise championing a digitally included nation at a time when it never mattered more. Chuffed for me, the team and the work of our wonderful network of community partners. 

Here’s the award sitting in pride of place in my home office (aka the dining room).

5. Working With Regional Leaders

It’s been excellent seeing regional leaders step up to tackle the digital divide on their own turf. This year, the Good Things Foundation partnered with Mayor Andy Street (West Midlands) and Mayor Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester) to ensure digital inclusion is core to their work. Our partnership together was discussed in our Roadmap for Combined Authorities, which also provides practical ideas for those in charge of developing digital inclusion strategies (regardless of authority type, may I add). As a firm believer in community power, I’m hoping that fellow leaders across the UK will follow suit in the new year.

6. Fixing The Digital Divide In Australia

One of the big moments in the past decade was establishing Good Things Foundation in Australia in 2017. Since then our team in Australia have mobilised a digital inclusion network of over 3000 hyperlocal community partners and reached over one million people. 
Huge congratulations to Jess Wilson, our CEO in Australia, and her amazing team. They published a wonderful Annual Review, do take a look.

7. Collaborating For A Digital Lifeline

We know the pandemic wreaked havoc for millions of people around the world. And we know how communicating, working, and accessing services online was essential.

I was so proud of our work on Digital Lifeline – an emergency response project delivering devices, data and digital skills support to people with learning disabilities in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdowns. Especially as it took a multi-organisation effort to ensure the project was delivered effectively.
I want to share my thanks to our funding partners DCMS (the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), and in particular our delivery partner AbilityNet. Also a huge thank you to Learning Disability England, the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, self-advocates and other disability and digital inclusion organisations who contributed to the initiative. More than 5,500 adults with a learning disability received a new device, free data and received digital skills support from one of our local partners – bravo!

8. Talking about Fixing The Digital Divide

It’s been a great year for raising awareness about digital inclusion – with politicians and beyond. We published our Blueprint to fix the digital divide report and Digital Nation infographic, attending the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences this past autumn was truly invigorating and I felt encouraged to see so many friends and allies of Good Things in-person once again.

I’ve spoken at the APPGs (All Party Parliamentary Groups) for Digital Skills, Data Poverty, and PICTFOR (ICT and Parliament), with numerous MPs, and given lots of Zoom speeches. I’ve been on the radio and the TV talking about fixing the digital divide.

The issue has never been as well understood by the media, politicians, and the general public; but galvanising this into support for even more action is a priority for me in 2022. It’s the action that we need if we really are going to work together so that no-one is left behind.

9. A New Connect Up Community

Lockdown meant that many people experienced real social isolation for the first time, and struggled to make contact with friends and family through a lack of digital means or skills. Though we’re gradually progressing to a more open world, we need to ensure that everyone can benefit from digital connections. To make that a reality, I’m proud to say we’ve been working with the Scheinberg Relief Fund to create “Connect Up”.
Connect Up will reach 17,500 older people who have been digitally and socially excluded during the pandemic and equip them with the skills needed to make and maintain meaningful connections with others. What’s different about this project is that it will also create a new community of practice, pulling organisations together from across the nation to co-design and test new ways to support older people to learn new digital skills. I really welcome this kind of collaboration and innovation and feel excited to see what comes out of the Connect Up Community.

10. Partnerships To Celebrate

Finally, I’d like to champion all of the partnership working we’ve done over the past ten years – especially in 2021 – from our community of online centres through to our friends at the likes of Nominet, Virgin Media O2, Mencap, Vodafone, Google, JP Morgan Chase Foundation, Capita, Mastercard, Children in Need, DCMS, Which, Accenture, HMRC, Lloyds Banking Group, Department for Education, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Spor, Welsh Government, and BT. We couldn’t have gotten this far without your contribution and work towards achieving our mission. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you! We literally couldn’t do it without you.

Here’s To Having Impact In 2022…

So whilst it’s a time for reflection it’s also a time to look forward to the future. 

With 10 million people in the UK without the very basic digital skills needed to take part in our digital society, and 1.5 million homes not able to afford internet access, our work is not done! There is still so much more to do.

2021 has brought me much pride but it’s also brought me sadness. Sadness when I hear of the tragic situations that people on the wrong side of the digital divide experience.

That’s why our three priorities for 2022 are:

  • Support as many people as we can who are on the wrong side of the digital divide through working with our amazing network of community partners – the Online Centres Network – and growing this network so everyone has somewhere local where they can get help to use the internet;
  • Grow the National Databank so that hundreds of thousands of people right across the UK can get access to the internet if they can’t afford it;
  • Launch a National Device Bank of refurbished laptops, tablets and smartphones for those people who can’t afford a device can get online too.

Of course all of this is underpinned by the amazing UK national digital inclusion network – the Online Centres Network – and people learning in a supported way with our wonderful free online courses on Learn My Way

If you want to help us to deliver our priorities, I would love to hear from you and collaborate on fixing the digital divide with you in 2022.

And with that, I wish you all the best this festive season and a very happy new year!

We can’t delay: It’s time to Fix the Digital Divide

On Friday Lloyds Banking Group published this year’s Essential Digital Skills survey results. Although there has been marked improvement for people who last year had some of the essential digital skills, the survey paints a depressing picture for those at the bottom of the skills ladder.

The pandemic definitely has exposed and exacerbated the digital divide, leaving people with multiple social challenges still left behind. 10 million people still struggle with the very basic digital skills needed to function in today’s digital world. You can see the key stats in our annual state of the nation: Digital Nation 2021.

It’s not OK to leave millions of people locked out of essential services and support, locked out of the digital world, locked out of jobs, savings, health and well-being, locked out of connection with loved ones.

That’s why today we’ve launched our 2021 Blueprint to Fix the Digital Divide. Our Blueprint is facing up to the Government to call for leadership and action from them. This leadership is essential to lead comprehensive, cross-sector action to truly fix the digital divide.

Let’s put digital at the heart of our recovery: so everyone has better lives through digital; so prosperity is evenly spread, levelling up our nation; so no-one is left behind in the digital revolution.

In the UK we’re world-leaders as a tech powerhouse, but the digital divide holds us back. This is a fixable problem, the pandemic showed me that we must fix the digital divide, for good.

That’s why we’re calling on this Government to put digital inclusion at the heart of COVID-19 recovery, harness the appetite for change, and take decisive action to fix the digital divide.

A dynamic Digital Strategy for a tech-savvy, digitally-included nation will deliver against these three goals:

  1. Digital Skills: So everyone can use the internet for life and work
  2. Community Support: So everyone has somewhere local to go for internet help
  3. Affordable Internet: So everyone has the everyday internet access they need

And we have five clear asks of Government:

Digital Skills: So everyone can use the internet for life and work

  1.  The Government to lead a national plan with clear actions to up-skill the 10 million people who lack the very basic foundation skills needed for our digital world.
  2. The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to lead cross-Government work so digital inclusion is built into all policies and initiatives that support the Levelling Up agenda.
  3. HM Treasury to back the Combined Authorities leading the way on digital inclusion, investing in pilots to deliver shared prosperity and recovery.

Community Support: So everyone has somewhere local to go for internet help

  1. Growing a national network of at least 10,000 trusted places where people can get community help with digital inclusion – reaching into villages, towns and cities, and supporting COVID-19 recovery.

Affordable internet: So everyone has the everyday internet access they need

  1. As part of its Digital Strategy, the Government to work with telcos and others to drive the actions needed to end data poverty by 2024.

If you agree that it’s not OK to leave millions of people behind and to hold the nation back then make some noise:

  • Go onto social media and share our messages, share our Blueprint and our Digital Nation 2021. Use Good Things Foundation’s hashtag #FixTheDigitalDivide.
  • If you’re a local organisation who is doing digital inclusion then please join our movement for digital inclusion (it’s free) and together we can make action locally and scale it nationally.
  • Write to your MP and tell them it’s not OK.

By working together, across sectors, locally and nationally, we can do this. The digital divide does not need to exist. With leadership and dedicated action we can #FixTheDigitalDivide.

Let’s get this done.

View the Blueprint to Fix the Digital Divide

View the Building a Digital Nation infographic

Let’s accelerate efforts to fix the digital divide

It’s not OK that millions of people are still excluded from participating in our digital economy.

Lloyds Banking Group has today published their annual Consumer Digital Index – and there are some really encouraging findings. There has been a significant increase in the number of people who are online – 1.5 million more people are now online, meaning that 95% of UK adults have used the internet in the past three months at least once. But 14.9 million people still have very low digital engagement – meaning the group of people we usually call ‘limited users’ is still far too high. People in this group may shop online, some of it on mobile phones, but they tend not to use email or online banking. And 2.6 million people are completely offline, 39% of whom are under the age of 60 busting the idea that all offline people are older. 

It’s clear that we are closing the digital divide – but perhaps more importantly, people are enjoying being online. New data from the report shows that 60% of people feel they have had “more positive times throughout the pandemic because of their use of digital tools,” and almost half (49%) say the Internet “helps them manage and improve their physical and mental health” – showing the critical role that digital has played throughout the pandemic and beyond.

The data also shows really encouraging signs for online banking and fintech use – which are vital for building sustainable finances. Over 2.8 times more people are now using fintech services compared with 2020, whilst smartphone banking usage has increased 10% since 2020. We know that these services can be life-changing – ensuring millions more people are able to manage their finances helping to tackle financial exclusion.

However, we can’t take for granted that getting online is a silver bullet for financial inclusion. The report shows that digital engagement alone does not lead to increased savings, and that the internet can actually lead to overspending. To ensure people spend and save responsibly, we need financial inclusion support to be embedded in digital inclusion programmes, ensuring that people can manage their money easily and effectively.

It’s particularly striking that digital inclusion is not a fixed state. Just as people can go from being digitally excluded to digitally included, the reverse is also true. Whilst 20% of people with high digital engagement in 2020 increased their digital engagement in the past year, a similar proportion (21%) fell out of the ‘very high’ digital engagement group. And of those whose engagement has fallen, they have disproportionately been older and less affluent. 

This absolutely reflects what we see at Good Things Foundation. People tend to come to our partners for support when they need help with a specific task such as getting a job, connecting with family, or applying for benefits. Making sure people stay engaged after they’ve achieved that task can be the tricky bit – but our model of learning encourages people to explore, to try out new things, and to see how else the internet can benefit them. As Lloyds say themselves, this is the importance of a “trusted face in a local place”. Once people experience these benefits, we know they’re more likely to carry on learning. 

There are other worrying signs in Lloyds Bank’s report today which suggest that those with disabilities or impairments are being left behind. The number of people using assistive tech has fallen over the past year, and it is concerning that this may mean they aren’t able to get online as easily. This is all the more reason for the Government to commit to a cross-cutting approach to digital inclusion, with inclusive design at its heart.

Issues like data poverty can further complicate the picture. If you’re faced with a choice of food or connectivity, which would you be more likely to choose? It might seem obvious. But connectivity is no longer a nice to have, it’s a need to have. Throughout the pandemic, feedback from our fantastic and unique hyperlocal network of community organisations doing digital inclusion (the Online Centres Network) has highlighted to us the critical importance of the internet for connecting with friends, family, and colleagues. Without connectivity, people can be left isolated, lonely, and struggling to support the health of themselves or their families.

Lloyds CDI data suggests that data and device affordability is a real issue – with almost a third of those offline (31%) saying cheaper mobile data would motivate them to get online. Through the Data Poverty Lab (supported by Nominet) we’ll be exploring sustainable solutions to this problem. We’re aiming to draft a range of proposals for policymakers to ensure everyone has sufficient, private, and secure access to mobile or broadband data. And through Everyone Connected, we’re helping to get devices and connectivity into the hands of thousands – with the digital skills support they need to get up and running.

On this point, I believe it’s critical that everyone can access support for digital skills in their local area – and the public agree. Seven times more people want to be able to access local support, compared with 2020; and we understand why. Our network of hyperlocal community partners is vital – the network helps people to get online, improve their digital skills, access devices and data projects, and lead better lives in every community across the UK. 

Today’s report offers some really promising findings, but also some worrying signs. If the Government is committed to levelling up – as it should be – it needs to embed digital inclusion at the heart of the Levelling Up White Paper. We need to see a strong digital strategy which works for everyone, ensuring the shift to digital is truly inclusive. And we need investment – in community partners, in local people, to get millions more online and to fix the digital divide.

Imagine your past year without the internet: my reflections on the pandemic one year on

The past year has been horrible. It’s been depressing and it’s been frustrating. But amongst all the misery, I’ve also found moments of excitement and pride.

It has been unfathomably horrible that so many people have lost their lives – and that so many families are still being deeply affected by this virus. It’s been depressing as often I’ve felt powerless in the face of a global pandemic – and I can’t say the weekends spent staring at deflating data on Twitter have helped to ease these feelings. And it’s been frustrating – not being able to travel or to see my family.

But it’s the periods of excitement that have kept me going. The new challenges and engaging with new partners about the importance of digital inclusion. And there have been plenty of times where I’ve felt immensely proud: proud of the incredible people in the hyperlocal network we partner with; proud of our national partners and the people who have donated to our Crowdfunder; and proud of the team at Good Things Foundation who have stepped up and work so hard this year to achieve so much.

I talk to a lot of people and one question I’m often asked: what’s changed in the last year?

Everything and nothing.

Imagine your year without being able to use the internet. That’s what so many families have had to put up with. Since we went into the first lockdown, interest in digital inclusion has skyrocketed.There have been amazing efforts across the country to ensure that all children can continue to learn from home. But there’s also been great interest in digital inclusion to tackle loneliness, or to improve health outcomes and access essential public services, or to allow people to work from home effectively. And I no longer see blank faces when I talk about ‘digital inclusion.’

There have been three big pivots for us this past year. First, our network of hyperlocal community partners went through dramatic changes with face-to-face support effectively stopped – doors shut – a year ago. We supported our local partners with resources as they pivoted to remote support online and via phone and, after the first lockdown, as they went from small groups and drop-ins to more one-to-one appointments. We have learned a lot from our partners too over the past year.

Second, we quickly realised that people needed devices and data. This was somewhat invisible to us before Covid, but by the end of March it was clear that this was an acute need. We put devices and data into our emergency response with FutureDotNow’s DevicesDotNow campaign, and have now embedded it into our work going forward as Everyone Connected. And we’ve since launched programmes focusing specifically on families and people with learning disabilities. Very soon we will have reached 20,000 people and families who before didn’t have devices and access to the internet, with affordability a huge reason that many of them were offline.

And of course, like every other “knowledge” organisation, we’re now working from home 100% of the time. This has been a struggle for many people. I consider myself lucky as I have a spare dining room, live with two other people, and have a garden. But I know for younger staff just starting out in their careers not being able to see how others work and not overhear conversations from colleagues will affect their learning and development. A real bonus is that senior people from politics, charities and businesses are more accessible – it’s much easier to find time for a 30 minute video meeting – I think we’ve all found the endless video calls tiring some of the time.

What’s kept me going throughout is the stories from our centres – our hyperlocal community partners – about all the amazing people who have benefitted from our support. Just today, a woman in her 80s read about our work in Yours magazine and phoned us to say the story resonated with her. Like so many other people, she’s alone and isolated with no family. Our team has put her in touch with a local centre and they’ve introduced her to a befriending volunteer. 

And of course, how can I reflect on the past year without mentioning Mable? She was the video star of the first lockdown and her story touched so many hearts. Mable is a clear example of a how tablet with data – alongside a digital mentor volunteer providing support – can change someone’s life. 

As I look forward, throughout the rest of the pandemic and beyond, I see many challenges – but also countless opportunities. 

One thing that we must always remember is that Covid-19 didn’t invent digital exclusion. It existed before and it will exist afterwards. But now that more people are aware of how critical it is I feel, even more than before, that we can close the digital divide if we set our minds to it. And now there are many more minds thinking about this.

No-one should have to choose between food and data – it’s heartbreaking that so many have faced that choice. Data poverty and the lack of affordable devices is something we can fix. We’re focused on data poverty and are moving from emergency solutions – like DevicesDotNow – to exploring sustainable solutions through the Data Poverty Lab we’re setting up with Nominet. Together, we can end data poverty. Our goal is that together we can make the internet affordable for people on low incomes, and free for those on very low incomes. 

Finally, I see great opportunities to ramp up our work with businesses and with the Government. Businesses have had a very mixed experience over the past year, with many struggling to survive, but other industries have seen their revenue soar. This brings in new businesses for us to partner with and means we’ll be able to support many more people.

With the Government, we’ve been campaigning to Fix the Digital Divide – and I think we’ve been heard. MPs from across the political spectrum have backed our calls to invest in digital skills through a great digital catch up. (One example was a House of Commons debate on 3rd December.) I’d like to work in partnership with the Government to embed digital inclusion across all Departments. With the Government’s leadership we can set an ambition – let’s be bold and really fix the digital divide. Together, across sectors, we can create a national, coherent plan to completely close the divide by the end of the decade. 

So everything has changed and nothing has changed. There is still debilitating digital exclusion in this country and data poverty – holding people and the economy back. People up and down the country will be suffering grief and sadness, worry and fear, due to losing loved ones and losing jobs and livelihoods. Digital inclusion isn’t the silver bullet that brings a solution to all our challenges but we know that having skills and access to feel digitally equal does improve lives and boost the economy.

But, we know how to fix the digital divide, with affordable devices and access, with nationally coordinated and targeted, informal, community support, and, working with employers with low skilled workers.

Now there is a good understanding that having a deep digital divide in our country is not OK – it’s time to scale up the action to fix it. Once and for all. 

To build back better: Why we must act now to tackle digital and financial exclusion

This piece was written by Kelly Devine, Mastercard UK and Ireland President, and Helen Milner OBE.

The Covid-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on millions of people’s finances. In fact, a staggering 19.4 million people do not feel prepared for the economic fallout that looms before us.1 With unemployment rising, and physical banking and consumer services less accessible due to the restrictions, it’s more important than ever that everyone is able to get online to access essential financial services and money support. 

When – according to Lloyds Bank’s Consumer Digital Index – 9 million people cannot use the internet without help, and 11.7 million people lack the essential digital skills for everyday life – the risks to people’s livelihoods and to national goals of levelling up are all too stark. We must do whatever it takes to stop this double inequality of both digital and financial exclusion, acting now to fix the digital divide before the gap widens further, if we are to build a truly inclusive Britain.

That’s why Good Things Foundation, the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity, and Mastercard – along with Clean Slate, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and the APLE Collective – formed an emergency coalition in June last year to raise awareness and pilot new ways to support those facing both digital and financial barriers. Last year’s campaign to ensure we leave Nobody in the Dark about the support they can get around money and digital skills reached over 1 million people.

The rise of ‘fintech’ and use of digital technology has brought untold benefits to economic growth, but these benefits have not been shared by everyone. Harnessing digital technology and innovation is the key to tackling digital and financial exclusion, and building a better, more inclusive UK.

But this promise won’t be realised without some essential groundwork: building the trust of consumers and citizens in online financial services and tools; ensuring those services and tools are inclusive by design, as well as safe and secure; providing additional protections for consumers who may be vulnerable or in vulnerable situations – and recognising that digital access and skills are an important dimension of consumer vulnerability in a digital marketplace. And, above all, we need to invest sustained effort into reaching, engaging and supporting those most at risk of digital and financial exclusion, so they can develop the skills and confidence to use online financial services safely.

As part of Nobody in the Dark, we also piloted a new approach: embedding digital inclusion into provision of person-centred money guidance. We combined the financial inclusion expertise of Clean Slate – which also runs QuidsIn! (the magazine and website) – with the digital inclusion expertise of Good Things Foundation to create a new service offer. We partnered with eight community organisations – members of the Online Centres Network, supported by Good Things Foundation. Through this pilot, we supported over 540 people to improve their financial situation and also build their digital and financial confidence. Over 255 people also benefited through a ‘self-serve’ route linked to the national campaign. 

And we’re proud that Nobody in the Dark has enabled people to make positive changes in their behaviour, big and small, through building trust, and building personal confidence. 

Take Mum of 3 Lydia, in Newcastle, who, after completing a financial health check, started putting aside £1 a day, and encouraged her children to save pennies from their pocket money in a piggybank. Together, they learned a way to become better off; by harnessing digital skills, taking control of their situation and boosting confidence and wellbeing for the whole family.

There are hundreds of thousands of people who are wary of using digital financial services, put off by the possibility of online fraud and scams; many are already online in other ways. These are sound concerns and we should never force people to adopt digital. But this doesn’t detract from the critical tasks of finding sustainable solutions for cash access, alongside helping people to develop the trust, digital skills, access or confidence to use both cash and digital payments. This is something we must address, or we risk these consumers being left further behind as how we pay for goods and services continues to evolve.

That’s why one of the core themes of our campaign has been to build trust and confidence in digital finance. 

At our recent roundtable, attended by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen MP, participants highlighted how a lack of trust and confidence in using digital services stops people from getting online. This is a serious issue which must be a core focus within Government plans for financial inclusion going forward. More than this, it is a fundamental barrier to accessing the wider benefits of being online – like keeping in touch with friends and family, managing health appointments and prescriptions, or being able to easily plan and manage your own finances. That’s why Good Things Foundation and Mastercard have been calling on the Government to support a Great Digital Catch-up in communities to fix the digital divide.

Investing to fix the digital divide – which the Government have also recently recognised in their ten tech priorities – also offers potential solutions for some who are currently ‘unbanked’ to help them build more sustainable finances. For example, through recent innovations in use of pre-paid cards and open banking solutions, which don’t require a traditional bank account. If these are to play a role in reducing inequalities and financial exclusion, then they need to be inclusive by design – designed to be used by people who face additional barriers to accessing traditional services.

We believe our Nobody in the Dark coalition provides a fantastic blueprint for future collaborations, connecting Government, the financial industry, third sector, and local communities. Together, Mastercard, Good Things Foundation and Clean Slate are committed to developing this agenda for action, to help tackle digital and financial exclusion and to ensure an inclusive economic recovery that works for everyone.

  1. YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,054 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24th – 25th June 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

A roadmap to close the digital divide

Last night we heard from the Prime Minister about the Government’s roadmap for easing the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in England. We heard him talk about a future that will be ‘very different and incomparably better’ than today. We’re all hoping so!

But as the nation’s families welcome the end to home schooling and we look forward to opportunities to see our friends and families again, it’s important that the cold harsh reality of digital exclusion doesn’t become something that melts from national consciousness in the warm, bright Spring sunshine.

The digital divide existed before the pandemic and will continue to exist when the pandemic is under control. Scrolling through my Twitter timeline, reports show the pandemic has entrenched and magnified inequality in all areas of life, from health to income, employment to housing. We haven’t all experienced the pandemic equally and we will definitely not all be experiencing the next months and years of recovery equally.

So while this is a moment for all of us to feel more optimistic, it’s also a pivotal moment for the Government to show it is truly committed to levelling up our society.

As Helen Buckingham, Director of Strategy at the Nuffield Trust succinctly put it this week; “COVID-19 has highlighted the inequalities that already existed in society. If we regard ourselves as a good society, we need to do something about that.”

Increased awareness of digital inequalities

During lockdown it’s been heartening to see major figures including England rugby star Maro Itoje using their voices to prompt action to tackle digital exclusion for children in households without devices. We’ve also seen the BBC re-launch its Make a Difference: Give a Laptop campaign to help provide access to laptops and devices for people in need.

Through our own Everyone Connected programme (previously DevicesDotNow), working with our community partners up and down the country, we’ve continued to help vulnerable adults to get online, giving them a vital lifeline to stay in touch with loved ones, to access Government support, to find work and speak to their GP online. I’ve been delighted by the huge financial support from businesses and charities, and humbled by the public donations made to our Crowdfunder campaign, which now stands at over £57,000.

So now there’s an increase in awareness about the devastating impact being on the wrong side of the digital divide can cause; let’s be ambitious about closing it. 

According to Lloyds Consumer Digital Index 2020, 9 million adults in the UK can’t use the internet without help. Where digital for life and work has become the new normal, it isn’t OK to leave millions of people behind.

With unemployment predicted by the OBR to hit 2.6m in 2021 and companies changing at pace due to the pandemic, ensuring that people in work and seeking work have digital skills will be key to powering the post-Covid economic recovery. Research from the Cebr shows that for every £1 invested there is a £14.80 benefit – this means a £70 million investment has an impact of £1 billion to the economy.

In December, Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman committed in Parliament to work with Good Things Foundation to fix the digital divide and said the Government’s commitment to this agenda ‘should not be doubted for a second’.  

Now would be a good time to make good on that pledge, and banish any doubt, with firm policies and funding to tackle the digital divide once and for all, for the benefit of everyone in our society.

We need an ambition that we can close the digital divide – because we can. An ambition for a 100% digital included nation. 

We need an ambition and a joined up plan – a national roadmap setting out the mini-milestones along the way.

I think the Government knows how critical closing the digital divide is to the nation’s prosperity, but they are fearful that if they articulate this ambition then they will have to pay the bill for it alone. That’s not the case. Industry and the social sector are ready to work together, with Government, to make this happen. At Good Things, we and our thousands of community partners are ready and willing to play our significant role. Our Blueprint could be a good start.

Just as we heard from the Prime Minister yesterday evening about his roadmap for coming out of lockdown, we now need a roadmap for achieving 100% Digitally Included Nation.

Rishi Sunak’s plans may still leave millions without hope and opportunity

Yesterday, the Chancellor presented his Spending Review for this year. His ambition was clear – Rishi Sunak wants to protect and create jobs, and help those out of work to retrain, restart their careers, and help reboot the economy. I hope the 9 million people in the UK who can’t use the internet without support will see some of the £100 billion extra capital spending help them to gain the skills they need and feel part of the digital recovery.

Whether those people in the places and communities who feel left behind and who would like some levelling up remains to be seen, but the initial details of the Spending Review show promise. The Chancellor announced the Government’s prediction that next year there will be 2.6 million people unemployed, and many of those will end up being unemployed for more than a year. That was a shock moment for me. A new £3 billion ‘Restart’ scheme will be put in place in the new year by the Department for Work and Pensions to help people who’ve been unemployed for over a year. This offers a fantastic opportunity for comprehensive retraining programmes, such as engaging with the basic digital skills so that people are prepared for the future and more confident in their life and their work.

We also saw a renewed push in funding digital infrastructure, with the Government reiterating its commitment to 4G coverage in 95% of the UK by 2025, and a concerted effort to boost broadband access. These are laudable goals which we clearly support. But without investment in boosting people’s digital skills, the proposals look to me like someone firing the starting gun before some of the athletes have even arrived at the track. Of course, let’s invest so we all have brilliant broadband, but I didn’t see investment to help the 9 million people who can’t use it. What we need is a Great Digital Catch Up.

Earlier this year, the Chancellor declared that he and the Government would “not leave anyone without hope and opportunity.” This is the approach people need right now – a compassionate approach – particularly for those who have lost their jobs, and for everyone left behind due to the compound effect of digital exclusion and social challenges. People need support to get back into work, to learn new digital skills, and restart their careers. Let’s hope the Government keeps their word, provides that help, and doesn’t ignore the need to fix the digital divide.