Helping to fix the digital skills gap with The Skills Toolkit

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Yesterday, the Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2020 was published, bringing brilliant news – 1.2 million more people are able to use their devices and the internet by themselves than last year. This is a huge achievement, and no doubt due in part to the hard work from our amazing hyperlocal partners in the Online Centres Network.

But we still have a long way to go. Access to technology and connectivity is clearly a huge barrier preventing many people accessing the benefits of digital, with 1.9 million households lacking access to the internet. Through the DevicesDotNow initiative we’ve been able to distribute internet connected devices to those who need it most. You can read more about the impact the campaign is having for people like Ron Roper and Firoozeh Salimi.

The other part of digital exclusion is about skills. 

This is a bigger problem than you may think, as yesterday’s Consumer Digital Index reinforced. Around 17.2 million of the workforce lack the essential digital skills they need for work, and these stats are worryingly similar to the figures from last year. This means that the workforce has stood still in terms of digital enablement – and at the same time, 82% of all job vacancies require digital skills. 

The digital skills gap needs fixing, and this is going to be essential for the country’s longer term recovery. The Skills Toolkit offers part of the solution.

Launched by the Government a couple of weeks ago, The Skills Toolkit gives people access to free digital and numeracy courses to help build up their skills, progress in work and boost job prospects. I’m really excited that Good Things Foundation has been working with the Department for Education to offer a range of digital skills resources on The Skills Toolkit linked through our free online learning platforms, Learn My Way and Make it Click.

For the very basics, our Learn My Way resources can help people get to grips with their computer, tablet or mobile phone. Unsurprisingly, our video calling course has proved extremely popular during Covid-19.

If people are a bit more comfortable with technology, Make It Click has plenty of helpful resources, including on working from home. And for the digitally ambitious, there are courses on the fundamentals of digital marketing from our partners at Google, right through to programming essentials in Python. 

But this isn’t just about jobs and skills for work. My colleague Kevin wrote an excellent blog outlining the positive effects of adult learning beyond employability prospects, including improved social cohesion, health and security.

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The Skills Toolkit is bringing new people – people we wouldn’t normally reach pre-Covid-19 – to Learn My Way. Our in-house data shows that most users who registered throughout April said they were employed, not looking for work, and have moderate to high existing internet ability. That means that people are choosing to develop their skills during Covid-19. Motivation is now much higher with 79% of people using Learn My Way last week saying that they were “more interested in developing new digital skills since the Covid-19 crisis began”.

At least one good thing to come from the current crisis is that digital skills have proved themselves to be essential in a socially distancing world. We can be sure that they are going to be crucial for our recovery as well. In our Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included Nation, we called for the provision of free essential digital skills support for everyone who needs it. The Skills Toolkit is a positive step forward, taking us that little bit closer to achieving our vision of a world where everyone can benefit from digital. 

Inclusion crucial for a digital-first health service

hsjWe have turned to digital technologies to help us face the spread of coronavirus. The internet allows us to search for NHS advice online, shift to virtual appointments with healthcare professionals, and connect with our loved ones through video calling apps.

At the same time, the pandemic has shone a light on the severe problem of digital exclusion that we have in the UK. There are currently 11.9 million people in the UK who are lacking the digital skills they need for everyday life. That means that one in five people are stuck in their homes without sufficient skills to access health information or avoid social isolation.

A few weeks ago (though it feels like a lifetime away) I was speaking at the Good Things Foundation roundtable in Westminster, discussing the question: “how can we ensure no one is excluded from a digital-first health service?”.

And unfortunately, the UK lockdown means that we are not in the privileged position that we were back then, when we were able to offer digital skills training through a blend of face-to-face support and online learning. This is the model that has allowed us at Good Things Foundation to improve the lives of more than 3 million people through digital since 2010.

The coronavirus outbreak follows the recent publication of the Marmot review into rising health inequalities, shown to be worsening for people in the most deprived areas.

We know that social exclusion correlates closely with digital exclusion – of the 4.1 million people who are offline in the UK, 71 per cent have no more than a secondary level education, nearly half are from low-income households, and 80 per cent are aged 50+.

This means that the people who are the most vulnerable in terms of the health and economic impact of the outbreak are also the least likely to be able to use the digital health services they need.

If we want to reduce health inequalities, we need to challenge the idea that digital technology alone will improve health outcomes. There are people who lack the skills to use digital health tools, and others who have the skills but don’t have the motivation, confidence or access to use the tools for a number of complex reasons.

A few weeks ago, using digital health tools (to book appointments online, or order repeat prescriptions) helped to improve peoples’ health outcomes and deliver cost savings to the NHS – but they were not essential. Offline methods were available for digitally excluded people. But now, digital channels are vital if we are to stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives.

My hope is that the lockdown has made it clear for all to see that digital inclusion is not a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have – and that when we emerge from this crisis, which we will, the provision of digital skills will be higher up the agenda for policymakers.

We have been developing the Digital Health Hubs model in partnership with NHSX – community-led hubs which offer a safe and trusted place to support people to use digital health tools in a place they feel comfortable, joining up digitally excluded people with the formal health service.

But digital exclusion is a huge problem, and not one that can be fixed with one-off programmes. We need a sustained effort, so that digital inclusion is embedded into a digital-first health service, and everyone can benefit – from patients and staff, through to those commissioning and delivering services.

Cost savings are clear – our three-year Widening Digital Participation programme with the NHS saved £6.40 for every £1 spent. But there are also other benefits that can’t be costed, such as higher trust in the NHS and people living longer with long-term health conditions, and enjoying a better quality of life.

We all have a stake in this, and we all need to take some responsibility, and we need a concerted effort to address this that brings together community organisations, individuals and the more formal health system.

We – along with the community organisations we work with – are doing all we can to tackle the immediate skills gap people who are now isolated, and often frightened, are facing. The coronavirus outbreak has shone a stark light on the relationship between health inequalities, digital exclusion and social exclusion, and so in the longer term we need to ensure we make digital and social inclusion a priority so we can all truly rely on a digital health system.

 

Read the original article for Health Service Journal .

1.9 million are isolated by COVID-19 and are not online: we need to include them. Now!

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There’s an urgent issue that we must address, and address as soon as possible. 1.9 million households in Britain don’t have, and can’t afford, access to the internet, and as the lockdown remains firmly in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, vulnerable people find themselves shut in their homes, facing social isolation with no means of communicating with the outside world. They’re not online, and are unable to find accurate health information or access the Government services they need to support themselves.

They’re at risk from COVID-19 and they’re at risk of being completely excluded from essential services and from online access to the comfort and support from family, friends and their communities.

That’s why FutureDotNow is working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on a new campaign called DevicesDotNow to tackle digital exclusion.

The community organisations that we, at Good Things Foundation, work with up and down the country have been forced to close their physical doors for the first time in years – sometimes decades. But whilst their doors may be shut for face to face support, they remain very much open, providing a vital lifeline for vulnerable people through the phone and the internet.

Take Alex, 24, from Newham: he worked in a restaurant until he was let go by his employer a week ago without any notice. Socially isolated with no support from friends or family, he approached Skills Enterprise, a community organisation in East London and part of Good Things’ Online Centres Network. They gave him advice over the phone about what he’s entitled to receive and how to claim it.

Our amazing community partners have been working tirelessly over the past weeks to provide essential COVID-19 support remotely, but many people simply do not have, and cannot afford, the devices and connectivity they need to access the internet.

When Fodie, 48, was sent home from her job working in the housing sector in Northumberland, her employer expected her to be able to work from home. But she did not have a laptop, and with a learning disability and low digital skills, Fodie was worried she would lose her job. Turning to the local Being Woman community centre for help, things changed for Fodie when she was given a free device and online support. Now, she can work, has kept her job and her income, and feels part of a community, all directly from her own home.

DevicesDotNow is calling on businesses across the country to donate tablets, smartphones, laptops, and connectivity in the form of sims, dongles and mobile hot-spots, to urgently help the most vulnerable people in the UK to get online.

Because behind every single household in that astonishing figure of the 1.9 million that lack internet access is a financially constrained person like Alex, or a vulnerable individual like Fodie. This is not a tomorrow problem – this is a problem now that needs addressing as quickly as possible, and we need your help.

I urge all businesses up and down the country to contribute to DevicesDotNow and share the message far and wide to help protect and empower some of the most vulnerable households in the UK and reduce the strain on our NHS.

Please visit DevicesDotNow to provide details of your donation. If you’d like to talk to someone about your donation, please email devices@futuredotnow.uk and someone from the team will be in touch.

 

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

As the lockdown bites, don’t forget Britain’s digital divide

computer-1400x788For people who are able to use technology, shifting everyday life online has been strange and unexpected, but not exactly a leap in the dark. For the millions of people who can’t, the lockdown means loneliness and social isolation.

And sadly, millions is no exaggeration. There are currently 11.9m people in the UK who lack the essential digital skills for life. That means that one in five people struggle to communicate, search for health information, or access government services online. And social exclusion correlates closely with digital exclusion – of the 4.1 million people who are offline in the UK, 71% have no more than a secondary level education, and nearly half are from low-income households.

The UK’s loneliness problem pre-dated this pandemic: a study by The Co-op and the British Red Cross reveals over 9 million adults in the UK across all ages – more than the population of London – are either always or often lonely. That’s another startling figure, especially considering that loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Nonetheless, the health crisis has brought into sharp focus the implications of being digitally excluded.

For me, video calling apps have helped preserve some normality in the current situation. Life is different – there’s no doubt about that – but technology allows me to continue to work from home and to keep in touch with friends and family. But for people who cannot use online communication services, and who rely on face-to-face interaction for social contact, now is a frightening time to be on the wrong side of the digital divide.

And at a time when economic activity grinds to a halt and people are losing their jobs, access to government services – many of which are digital-first – is also essential, particularly for those who are less financially secure.

One myth I am keen to bust is that this is an issue that’s only affecting older people. Take Alex, 24 from Newham: he worked in a restaurant until he was let go by his employer a week ago without any notice. Socially isolated with no help from friends or family, he approached Skills Enterprise, a community organisation in East London, looking for support on how to apply for benefits online.

Unfortunately, the UK lockdown announced on Monday means that we are unable to offer digital skills training through a blend of face-to-face support and online learning – the model that has allowed us at Good Things Foundation to improve the lives of more than 3 million people through digital since 2010 – although many of our community partners continue to support people remotely

When normality resumes, we must remember that digital exclusion will continue to shape the lives of millions of people. The spread of Coronavirus and our reliance on technology has made it clear for all to see that digital inclusion is not a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have. When we emerge from this crisis, which we will, the provision of digital skills must be a priority for policymakers.

It’s not just a case of levelling the playing field – there is also a clear economic argument for closing the digital skills gap. Research by CEBR has shown that investing in ensuring everyone in the UK is digitally included will lead to a net present value of £21.9 billion to the UK, with a benefit of almost £15 for every £1 invested in basic digital skills. By upskilling the nation, we will begin to accrue economic benefits through higher employment rates, increased earnings for individuals, more transactions shifting online, savings to the NHS, and much more.

The Government’s pledge of £5bn to roll out gigabit-capable broadband across the country by 2025 is welcome. But even if you build broadband infrastructure, not everyone will be able to use it. What we need alongside this is a commitment to invest so that everyone has the digital skills they need to use, and benefit from, the internet.

Our Blueprint calls on the Government and other partners to commit to a 100% digitally included nation, by promoting the benefits of the internet, and building skills through free essential digital skills support for anyone who needs it.

Loneliness and social isolation are problems without easy answers, but it’s difficult to dispute the power of technology in bringing people together, offering rays of hope in the midst of this crisis. Fixing the skills and inclusion gap is part of the solution – and one we know we can deliver.

 

Check out the original piece on the CapX website.

 

The NHS spends more than half its budget on people who can’t access the internet – here’s what I’m doing to change that

On Tuesday, Professor Sir Michael Marmot released a 10-year review of his 2010 report into growing health inequalities. I’m sure we all agree with health secretary Matt Hancock that “there’s still more to do”.

Marmot’s review reveals stalling life expectancy for men and women in England since 2010. The more deprived the area, the shorter the life expectancy. The trends show that people in poorer areas spend more of their lives in ill health than those in affluent areas, and that life expectancy among women in the poorest communities in England has seen the biggest decline (on top of this, there’s a clear north-south divide). The poorest in our society will die sooner, and live longer with health-limiting conditions.

What Professor Marmot describes is shocking, and supports our own research, but is it impossible to overcome? At the Good Things Foundation, we don’t think so. In fact, our digital inclusion charity is already showing there’s a way to tackle the problem.

We know social exclusion has a strong correlation to digital exclusion, and together they exacerbate health inequality. There are almost 12 million people who lack the digital skills essential for life in the UK today, and the digitally-excluded account for half of NHS spending.

We’re already targeting these 12 million people through piloting, with the NHS’s support, 32 Digital Health Hubs across the country. These community-led hubs, which focus on the prevention of ill health, offer free support ranging from YouTube-based musical memory sessions for people with dementia, to peer-to-peer internet searching for healthy recipes. It’s a partnership model that takes health to the people, putting digital health tools in the hands of the poorest in society.

An example of someone we’ve supported is Donna Murray, who left the armed forces with poor mental health, and didn’t know where to look for support. Through her local health hub in Saltburn, she was able to find not only information about how to manage her conditions, but also an online community. “I was hopeless,” she says, “completely socially isolated. I was the biggest technophobe and couldn’t even send an email. Being able to use digital tools has given me a sense of self-worth again.” It’s not just about the tangible benefits of learning to find health advice or make a GP appointment online. It’s about the intangible benefits of taking control of one’s health.

Digital Health Hubs have already made a huge difference to the lives of so many. With more NHS investment, we can scale this model to the communities that the Marmot Review has shown so badly need it. With a record £33.9bn-a-year investment in the NHS, there should be funds to do so.

Professor Marmot said when health stops improving, society has stopped improving. We welcome his recommendation for a cross-government effort to address health inequalities – and believe it’s imperative for digital inclusion to be embedded in this effort.

Check out the original piece on the Independent website.

Do you know this is a trusted source?

Of course this is a trusted source – it’s my blog! But how did you know that this link was to be trusted? Did it take you to where you expected it to? It takes digital and critical thinking skills to come to that decision, and in the digital age these are essential.

Today is Safer Internet Day 2020, and I’m delighted to join forces with millions of people across the world to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology, together for a better internet.

SID2020I’m always raving about the benefits of the internet, and rightly so. From helping you take control of your cash to delivering better health outcomes, there are countless positives to digital. That said, participating in the online world means dealing with new kinds of risks, such as getting scammed, viewing distressing content, and the spread of disinformation.

Research published by Ofcom earlier this month shows that parents are more concerned about their children online, with 55% of the parents of 5-15 year olds believing that the benefits of their child being online outweighs the risks compared to 65% in 2015. This is perhaps unsurprising – a startling 79% of 12-15 year olds in the UK claim that they have had at least one potentially harmful experience online in the last year.

Coincidentally, I’m currently on my way down to London to give evidence to the House of Lords Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee in a session exploring one particular source of online harm – disinformation. Alongside other experts, we’ll be discussing the question: ‘Do we have the digital literacy to spot fake news?

For me, this is a really interesting question, and to answer it we need to be clear about what we mean by digital literacy. The Government’s Essential Digital Skills framework provides five categories for the skills that are essential for everyday life and work: communicating, handling information and content, problem-solving, transacting and – finally – being safe online.

So, if a central plank of digital literacy is understanding how to be safe online, and fake news is a source of online harm, then the question of whether we have the digital literacy to spot fake news is really a question about whether we are a digitally literate nation full stop.

And, unfortunately, the answer to that is no – not nearly as much as we should be. There are 11.9 million people who don’t have all of the digital skills they need for life. What makes it all the more frustrating is the overlap between digital and social exclusion. Half of the 4.1 million adults who are completely offline in the UK are from a low-income household, and 71% have no more than a secondary level education. The people who have the most to gain from the digital world are the most likely to be excluded from it.

There are always going to be online dangers just as there will always be dangers offline, and of course, we need to make sure that children and young people have the digital and critical thinking skills to keep themselves safe. Last year, Safer Internet Day reached 46% of young people aged 8-17 and 26% of parents, and this year, we’re hoping to reach millions more.

But supporting adults is just as important, especially since we can’t expect children to be able to recognise these dangers instinctively. Toddlers aren’t hardwired to look left and right before they cross the road – they need to be taught how. And in turn, we can’t expect parents to be able to teach their children how to be safe online if they have never been supported themselves.

Over in Finland, embedding digital literacy and critical thinking education into schools has been a resounding success. The Nordic nation tops the list of European countries in terms of resilience to disinformation, according to the Media Literacy Index compiled by the Open Society Institute. We need a programme like this in the UK, but not just for children. Adults need to be supported as well.

At Good Things Foundation, we know full well the importance of adult learning, and our network of thousands of hyper-local organisations empower adults throughout the country to be safe and able to engage with the online world, helping more than 3,000,000 people since 2010. These are transferable skills which go beyond the ability to access Government services online or make use of internet banking – we’re teaching them to swim in the shallow end of a pool, but we want them to be able to swim in the ocean.

If education is one side of the coin, on the other side are the Government initiatives helping to make the internet a safer place. Australia led the way by establishing the eSafety Commissioner in 2015, a national independent regulator for online safety. It’s no wonder that in a report published today, Australia ranks second in the global Child Online Safety Index.

In the UK, the Online Harms White Paper set out the government’s plan for a package of online safety measures, including the establishment of our own independent regulator. It also calls for companies to take more responsibility for their users’ safety by introducing a ‘statutory duty of care’ and a national Media Literacy Strategy for people of all ages. Our Government – and policymakers around the world – need to supercharge their plans for online safety measures and to deliver on them as soon as possible.

Everyone has a part to play in creating a better and safer internet. If you’re a parent looking for conversation starters and activities to talk to your children about use the web in a safe, responsible and respectful way, take a look here. If you feel like you could use some support being safe online, or if you know an adult who could, go along to an Online Centre for some free digital skills training. You can find your local Online Centre here.

So happy Safer Internet Day, which I will be celebrating by informing the House of Lords Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee about the importance of digital literacy. Keep an eye out for my next blog where I’ll let you know how it goes.

Better health for a divided nation. Can we fix it? Yes, we can.

In his New Year article for Conservative Home, Matt Hancock laid out his aspirations for the NHS to take a more preventative focused approach. He said: “We must invest more – and we will. But it’s not just about the money, but also improving the way the health service is run and harnessing exciting new technology.”

He went on to talk about his personal experience of dementia, and of his goal to “treat early signs of dementia, not with more drugs, but through social prescribing – making use of non-medical services to help people manage their physical and mental health.”

His ambition to help people to take more responsibility for their own health I think rests in communities, and not only with individuals. Matt Hancock speaks of creating a health system that doesn’t just rely on the NHS to fix things when they go wrong, and he says that better tech means better health and social care. 

Is this possible? Yes. Is this desirable? Yes. Can we achieve this vision? Yes, and communities have a big role to play. Can we achieve this vision and still leave almost 12 million people behind? No, we can’t. These people lack the basic digital skills they need to use this new technology to look after their health and wellbeing before they get ill, and to manage conditions they already have. 

At Good Things Foundation, we’ve been working for three years on innovative ways to bring digital health literacy and digital services to people in communities in order to achieve better health outcomes, as part of our Widening Digital Participation programme. This has led us to a new model for Digital Health Hubs. These hubs – which are up and down the country – are doing fantastic work to improve digital health literacy for people who are at risk of being left behind, as well as connecting the formal and informal health systems, giving the community a crucial role in combating health inequalities, and ensuring everyone can benefit from the digital health revolution. It’s not just about the formal parts of the health system – communities are playing a critical role, especially in prevention. 

This video showcases some of our fantastic health hubs so you can see for yourself how this model is working in action.

Widening Digital Participation hasn’t just supported people to improve their digital health literacy, but has helped us to develop an evidence-based model – local places in communities, work with local health systems, and boosting health outcomes. We’ve begun to scale our Digital Health Hubs and we hope we can scale this model further for even greater impact. 

These Health Hubs are diverse – as are their communities – but they’re all reaching people and improving people’s health. 

In Saltburn, community organisation Destinations@Saltburn has developed an informal space where they can provide holistic support to improve the wellbeing of local residents, working with a number of local partners including local GPs. And in Leeds, the library service is working to explore how digital can improve the lives of local residents, including carers and people living with Dementia, helping them to overcome barriers and  providing a broad range of support. 

In Blackburn, the central Library is offering it’s community space to support people and groups with managing their health conditions. It has been credited as a key component for increasing NHS App registrations by 40% in the area.

And in Brent, they’re co-locating with local GP services to facilitate social prescribing, helping GPs to refer patients easily to local digital support. 

We know this model saves the NHS £6 for every £1 it costs.

All of our Widening Digital Participation activity has been truly user-led (you can take a look at the co-design video we’ve also shared this week), and has demonstrated that digital empowerment is critical to driving better outcomes for patients, improving the success of public health and preventative interventions, and reducing health inequality. 

I’m ambitious about the impact these innovative Digital Health Hubs can have, and I know they have a crucial role to play in ensuring the digital divide we face in the UK doesn’t hold back the transformation of our NHS.  Inequality in our society is only widening – this has never been more clear than when looking at health outcomes. So the work these Digital Health Hubs are doing really is vital. 

Last week we heard Nicky Morgan say that one of the Government’s major priorities is to help transform communities who feel like they have not felt the benefits of the change we have seen in recent years. She said: “We need to unleash the potential of the whole country and deliver opportunity across the entire nation. And we can only truly view the digital revolution as a success if its positive forces – the jobs, the investment and the creative opportunities – are used to break down barriers, rather than to entrench them. That means ensuring all people and all businesses have the tools they need to adopt and benefit from digital technologies – the connectivity, the capability and the confidence.”

With two Members of the Government’s Cabinet supporting our call for better basic digital skills and confidence, in communities across the whole country – then let’s make sure everybody knows about the power of digital, communities, and the power of Digital Health Hubs to boost better lives for citizens and to make sure no-one gets left behind.