Paving the way for a leading digital nation

Recently I attended a breakfast debate and the launch of a publication called ‘The UK: A leading digital nation’, a project between Matt Warman MP and Brands2Life – a digitally-led communications agency. The government are in the process of creating a digital strategy and in parallel to this, project experts were invited from technology, business and politics to put forward their thoughts on what they think will really help make the UK a leading digital nation. I was delighted to be one of those experts.

Helen quote

My quote in the publication. Image courtesy of Brands2Life ‘The UK: A leading digital nation?’



The publication looks at particular key areas:

  • Upskilling the nation with digital skills and to use new technology, with particular focus on young people and businesses.
  • The provision of 10Mbps broadband for everyone.
  • The digitisation of public services.
  • How the process of changing laws and decision-making creates a challenge for getting the regulatory environment right, when tech innovation changes the sector.

At the event Matt Warman MP said that ‘infrastructure and skills must go hand-in-hand’. He said ‘skills are not just about coding but about preparing for a digital working life’. I recently read a piece of research that found UK businesses aren’t doing enough to upskill their current workforce, instead choosing to hire younger staff for their digital output. On the other side of the spectrum, despite their tech-savvy reputation it was also found that one in three 18-34 year-olds are worried about being left behind at work because they lack digital skills.

If Britain wants to be a leading digital nation we have to put time, effort and money into upskilling everyone, so they can survive in our new technology-driven world. The government has a big part to play in that. As my quote says, they need to show sustained leadership to tackle the three key barriers to digital inclusion: motivation, skills and access.

At the event Anthony Walker, deputy CEO at TechUK, said that ‘digital should make the world a better place: fix finances and bring everyone together’ and I agree. We all need to work together to make sure that can happen. With more and more services moving online – especially public services – most people need even the most basic of digital skills to get by.

For basic digital skills, Learn My Way is a great resource for people looking to begin their learning journey and if they want to talk to someone face-to-face they can easily locate their local UK online centre by using the search on our website. Our community partners are more than happy to help. To date we’ve supported over a whopping 1.8 million people to get online through the network and by 2020 we want to have helped even more.

Have a read of the ‘The UK: A leading digital nation’ report here to see what you think, but I believe that if everyone in the UK – public and private sectors, government, and the population themselves – commit to making sure every single person in the UK has even just the basic digital skills, then that’s a start to making sure we can become a truly leading digital nation.

Dear Mr Vaizey …

Dear Mr Vaizey

I was watching you give evidence to the BIS Select Committee yesterday on the digital economy and I heard you say: “When people say that 20% of people are digitally excluded it doesn’t ring true, it doesn’t capture the nuances and frankly some people just don’t want to be online”.

I thought you might like to have a neat summary of what the numbers say. You’re right to say the picture is nuanced – and it really depends if someone is looking at whether someone has ‘ever’ used the internet or alternatively if they actually have the basic digital skills to use the web to help them with their work, life, and play.

12.6 million adults in GB lack basic digital skills (that’s 23% of all GB adults). The five basic digital skills are: managing information; communicating; transacting; creating; problem solving. Go ON UK/Ipsos MORI, Basic Digital Skills UK Report 2015
11.1 million people in the UK have low digital capability. This is an indicator of actual digital behaviours such as: very little evidence of online shopping; no managing money online; no streaming or content. Lloyds Banking Group, Consumer Digital Index, 2016
11% of adults (5.9 million) have never used the internet. ONS, Statistical Bulletin: Internet Users, 2015
14% of adults are not recent internet users. ONS, Statistical Bulletin: Internet Users2015
14% of adults in the UK are non-users of the internet. Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
86% of households in Great Britain (22.5 million) have internet connected at home. Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
51% of adults use a smartphone to go online outside of the home. Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
67% of adults go online at home and elsewhere; and 17% of internet users (over 15 years) only go online at home. Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
Smartphones and tablets supplement rather than substitute computer use, with just 6% only using smartphone and tablet devices to go online at home or elsewhere. This rises to 10% among DEs. Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
The busiest 7-day period saw 14.4m unique visitors to pages at Gov.UK – this represents approximately 22% of the UK population. Activity on GOV.UK: web traffic
51% individuals interacted online with public authorities within the last 12 months. The European Broadband Scorecard Q1, 2015 via Ofcom
98% of under 45 year olds have at least one basic digital skill and 89% have all five basic digital skills. Go ON UK, Basic Digital Skills UK Report 2015
98% of under 45 year olds go online anywhere. Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
23% of under 45 year olds carry out 10 or less types of activities online. Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015
80% of internet users in social group DE carry out 10 or less activities online. Ofcom, Adult’s Media Use and Attitudes, 2015

You also said that there are people who just don’t want to use the internet and don’t have a compelling reason to use it. According to ONS (2015) 53% of people who don’t have the internet at home (or via mobile) say they don’t have a connection because they ‘did not need it’. In comparison, other barriers are less with 32% indicating that no connection was due to a lack of skills; and high equipment costs and access costs are also a barrier to 12% and 11% of households respectively.

Working to communicate the benefits of the internet to those who don’t see them currently, will continue to be really important.

Hope you find these numbers useful in further understanding the broad digital engagement landscape.

Best wishes,

Helen

Government digital strategy by me: An ambitious goal, a taskforce, and a 4-point plan

At our Digital Evolution conference in November, Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, said that since 2010 the Government has invested about £30m to help people get the basic digital skills they need to function as part of our increasingly digital society. This was the same day that Chancellor George Osborne delivered the Autumn Statement and Spending Review, giving the Government Digital Service a cash injection of £450 million. Ed talked about the people that Government investment to date has helped, and how important it is to do more – and he also told us that the Government sees digital participation as a continuingly important issue.

Naturally, I jumped at the chance to put my views across in person this week at the Science and Technology Select Committee in Parliament, examining the digital skills gap for the Government’s Digital Strategy Review.

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Me giving evidence at the Select Committee. Image courtesy of parliamentlive.tv

There are still 12.6 million people in the UK who lack basic digital skills and of these, 49% are disabled, 63% are over 75 and 60% have no formal qualifications. But the punchline is that it’s the poorest in our society – those who are already being left behind – who aren’t benefiting from digital.

We’re in the same boat

I sat on a panel with Nick Williams, Consumer Digital Director of Lloyds Banking Group, and Margaret Sambell, Director of Strategy at the Tech Partnership. We were followed by another panel with Dr Ellen Helsper, Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor at the London School of Economics, Charlotte Holloway, Head of Policy and Associate Director at TechUK, and Steven Roberts, Strategic Transformation Director at Barclays PLC. Although the panel sessions were based around different topics, it seemed to me like we all feel the same way – we’re doing well but the government needs to take charge and work with many others to accelerate the digital agenda.

My four-point plan

You can watch the full meeting below, courtesy of Parliament Live TV, but one of the main things that I put across for consideration in the review was my four-point plan – something which I think is very important for the government to consider:

      • Leadership: The UK lacks clarity on what we want to achieve. We need a goal. I recommend that the Government sets a goal, for example 98% of the UK population with basic digital skills, and then provides the leadership and coordination to make sure we get on with it and succeed. Government is uniquely placed to convene and encourage key organisations to get this sorted.
      • Behavioural change: With so many people who have never used the internet saying it’s because they don’t see the relevance of the web to their lives, we don’t just need to help with skills – we need to get people interested in the first place. I think the private sector could lead this, as they’re already so good at persuading us to buy all sorts of things!
      • Skills, informal, and local: Our network is great, and all of the research shows why it works so well, as people want support to get basic digital skills by someone like them, which also means someone local to them too. Adults need learning to be informal, not to feel like school, and to be as personalised as possible. Tinder Foundation and our hyperlocal partners help about a quarter of a million people a year. We could double that delivery, but if you do the maths, us working along means we’d reach the 12.6 million at a much slower pace than we would if we worked together. What else can be done? Can the Government incentivise employers of low-skilled people to help them to digitally upskill their workforce for example?
      • Make digital more affordable: As the digital divide deepens, the cost of devices and broadband is a big issue for some who are still offline. People are finding things tough, and that means even the best deals are out of their reach. Government needs to work with tech companies and broadband providers to make digital more affordable. I don’t know the answer but I’m sure the Government using its convening power can bring relevant companies together and make the internet affordable for everyone, and especially to those in the lowest socio-economic groups.

Watch the video here. 

Speaking from experience

I listened with great interest to committee member Carol Monaghan MP, a member of the Scottish National Party. Carol seemed very clued up on digital inclusion and the importance of it, as she told us about her 80-year-old father who regularly tinkers with his iPad and makes mistakes, which his family then need to fix for him. She also said, however, that she was glad he at least tries to use it. This reminded me of the man that I met during my visit to Nottingham Libraries last week, whose family do all of his online transactions for him but don’t have time to teach him to do it himself.

In my final comments, I told the committee that I think the Government Digital Strategy should articulate a clear aim, and that I would like to see 98% of the population with basic digital skills by 2020. Norway is there already – it’s not an over-ambitious goal. I know 100% is a scary thought.

A goal that’s both ambitious and achievable, Government leadership through a taskforce or a cross-sector Council, and a four-point plan – that’s what we need. Then, together, we can achieve a better, stronger, more productive, digital nation, helping those most in need to become fully functioning members of our digital society.

To quote Dr Ellen Helsper, “Digital is 70% of my job, but 100% of my life” – let’s make it 100% of everyone’s.

My visits to the party conferences – mixed weather but positive messages

When I arrived at the Labour Conference in Brighton the sun was shining and I immediately saw Jeremy Corbyn being chased by a small number of people wearing “I love Jez” t-shirts and running after him shouting “I love you Jeremy”. Overall the conference felt very upbeat, the small number of MPs and Shadow Ministers I heard speak were full of a renewed energy, and new ideas.

When I arrived at the Conservative Conference in Manchester it was raining and cold, and the demonstrators were loud and hurled abuse at everyone in the vicinity of the conference secure zone with the hope that some of the people were Conservatives with some power. Inside however, and in the Fringe events, MPs and Ministers were confident and bold. And, of course, their ideas are becoming policy.

Helen's Blog

Two themes that emerged from both conferences were digital and poverty

Tinder Foundation doesn’t just work to close the digital divide – we’re working to close the opportunity divide as well. We work with local partners deep in communities to ensure that people aren’t excluded from jobs, skills, health care, human contact, savings, social mobility and other opportunities due to their lack of internet knowledge and confidence. In 2015, in the UK, not being able to use the internet deepens exclusions that already exist, and the people most affected are poor or elderly and often isolated.

I went to a Fringe session on Child Poverty at the Labour conference and on the Working Poor at the Conservative conference. A common message from both is about facing up to the reality of poverty in our communities. And of the importance of joining up across departments, across sectors and across local (and hyperlocal) organisations – which is easier said than done!

In fact “joining up” was a big message from (now Lord) Francis Maude, who appeared to me like a man proud of what he’s achieved in the past five years with GDS (Government Digital Services) and a bit more open now it’s not his ministerial post.

Myth-busting

Rachel Neaman from Go ON UK was also speaking, and usefully exploded some myths about digital exclusion. Many young people can’t fill in forms online or complete a CV, so we do have a problem with some young people – they’re not all digital natives. And almost half of those lacking basic digital skills are of working age – either stuck in low paid jobs or stuck with no job and no digital skills to apply for them. Rachel also said it’s not acceptable that people suffer from poor bandwidth, and that real affordable solutions for the people who can’t afford a connection need to be addressed and fast. We can’t accept the stereotype that people’s grandparents are the only people who remain unconnected and under skilled. It’s a much bigger problem than that. It’s a 10 million people sized problem.

Both Parties were clear that jobs are the way out of poverty, but they have to be jobs that pay a decent wage

People who are in low paid work in their 30s and 40s are likely to stay in those jobs for at least 10 years. I’d like Tinder Foundation, and our excellent community partners, to continue to work to build people’s resilience and to more explicitly show how basic digital skills can be a platform to many important pathways out of poverty. Yes, it’s about building skills to help people get work and to get a better job, and it’s about linking people to the partner organisations who can help them with the complexity of their lives.

The good news is that Matthew Hancock (now Minister for the Cabinet Office and in charge of GDS) in his closing remarks in a Policy Exchange fringe event about ‘digital opportunities and threats’ said that digital inclusion was extremely important, he said he was committed to the “massive liberation new technology is bringing …. services must remain universal, and available to everyone”. Well, you know I agree with that.

The Government is clearly committed to increasing the number of great quality online public services available and to increase the number of people using them. Everyone who can now, or could with support, should also see the value, convenience and quality of these services. This will help save money, but also the experience is usually better than other channels. Digital inclusion can save the Government money, and improve information and transactional services for everyone.

Going back to the opportunity divide

For those on the wrong side of the opportunity divide there’s a danger that if we don’t keep working as hard as we can and in as targeted a way as possible, the digital divide will exacerbate the exclusions that already exist in our society.

Although their drivers may be different to mine, the great news is that both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party seem to agree that digital inclusion is important to our economy and our society. So, we’ll keep working hard, with partners, to help provide a solution to close that digital divide – and opportunity divide – as fast as we can. It’s good to know we’ve got the politicians behind us.

Connecting the 4.4 Billion Unconnected

On Wednesday evening I was on a train coming back from London and chatting to my colleague Alice about how important the internet, and good access to the internet, is to us personally. Alice had recently moved house and all her furniture was in storage, but she was happy as the broadband was connected and she had a beanbag to sit on.

Alice and I had been to an event where about 60 social entrepreneurs, business people and delivery projects from around the world had been discussing the Why and the How to connecting the last 4.4 billion people who still can’t or don’t use the internet.

In the UK we still have 10 million people who don’t have the basic digital skills to use the web. As part of my day job I get meet with many of the thousands of people that Tinder Foundation and our partners help every month, and I hear about the life changing effect the internet is having on new users who have: found work, saved money, been in touch with distant friends and relatives, no longer felt lonely, got healthier, and stopped rough sleeping.

Scaling that up, a vision of connecting the 4.4 billion people unconnected is mind boggling. Many of the stories, I heard on Wednesday, of lives transformed were familiar to me: people getting new skills so they can find useful work, people finding a voice, people linking to essential services. But other success stories were about how to use technology to solve very different challenges. For example, Instant Network School from Vodafone Foundation helps children displaced by conflict access education resources via tablets and the internet. We heard from Internet.org about infrastructure solutions, free data to use basic Facebook and other public services for mobile phones in the developing world, and about digital literacy.

There were common strands in our discussions. Such as technology is just the tool; what we really need to make change happen is to develop programmes importantly involving users and helpers that result in behaviour change. We talked about value and cost. In the UK I keep banging on about the people who just can’t afford the internet.

For many people still digitally excluded in the UK, just like people in some of the developing world, the choice is an internet connected device or something else – where the ‘something else’ may be food or travel costs to get medical help. It’s just like the prevent or cure agenda: we never get truly focussed on prevention when there are so many people who need curing. I often feel hopeful and frustrated in equal measure.

Bob Gann, from NHS England, and I gave a short talk on our Widening Digital Participation Programme. I brought it right back to the 4.4 billion people and told the story of just one of them – Ron, who used to live in a tent next to an A road just outside Hull.

Ron Dale and Bob Gann

Ron Dale and Bob Gann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too often the big numbers obscure the fact each statistic is a person and each time they are empowered to change their life for the better that’s one more life improved. Ron’s story has been told to the UK Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and this shows that one small change in one life has the potential to change the opinion of the man in charge of the NHS. We have to look bottom-up but we also need to make sense of it top down, so we can scale change as well as learning from local practice.

Bob and I talked about the Tinder Foundation Network Effect. How the thousands of hyperlocal partners we work with in our network achieve more because they are part of that network. Yes, it’s about products and services and platform and grants – the things we provide. But it’s about more than that, it’s about belonging to something bigger. Ron was helped by Inspire Communities in Hull; Inspire Communities’ work is very important. Southampton Library, and Starting Point, and Cook E-Learning, and the Bromley By Bow Centre, and thousands of other hyperlocal partners work is very important. They all tell us they know that by working with Tinder Foundation their work, their expertise and their efforts are all respected and valued, and they also tell us that they feel part of something bigger. We are all part of something bigger. Together we have a bigger impact than just working alone. That’s the network effort.

Alice and I met people in India and South Africa who are working in a similar way to Tinder Foundation. We will keep talking. We now belong to a bigger network of people with a similar vision and tireless energy to keep going until we cross the finish line.

Yesterday’s event was hosted by Huawei, and they published a microsite a year ago with articles and further information about the 4.4 billion unconnected.

Everyone’s been at it recently…

…talking about digital inclusion that is. Well, that’s how it’s felt after celebrating some important milestones over the past week.

In my last post I talked about the Digital Leaders Annual Lecture and following on from that I wrote a post for the Digital Leaders blog – which just so happened to coincide with the Digital Democracy debate at the House of Commons, led by Meg Hillier MP. It was also the first time the public (me included!) could use electronic devices during an MPs debate.

The Digital Democracy debate in Westminster Hall, March 2015

Fast forward a few days and it was back to Westminster, this time at the House of Lords, for a big day for the Tinder Foundation team. For the past six months we’ve been working with Vodafone UK and 17 UK online centres to research how mobile technology can contribute towards bridging that digital gap. The results of the project have formed a new report, “Mobile: Helping To Close The Digital Divide?

I must admit (it’s something I talked about on Tuesday) when we first started working with Vodafone I was feeling pretty fed up of attending events to hear people saying that everything (digitally-speaking) was fine because “all the old people will die soon and everyone left already owns a mobile”. And I was definitely fed up of replying (or often shouting) that they were wrong.

But the project with Vodafone has reignited my enthusiasm for mobile as there have been some really great results.

The launch event for ‘Mobile: Helping To Close The Digital Divide?’, a report produced by Tinder Foundation and Vodafone UK

We thought the people taking part would find using a mobile more intuitive (and they did) – which has had a huge impact. But the health and wellbeing impacts, and the impacts for people with caring responsibilities – were a real ‘bonus’ finding. The below is only a taster; I hope you can have a read of the findings in full here. Let me know what you think by using the hashtag #digitalmobile:

  • 55% not only learnt in the UK online centre with the help of the brilliant staff there, but they also carried on learning and enjoying their mobile device at home (and 45% didn’t learn independently)
  • 88% improved their digital skills, with their motivations for using the internet also changing dramatically
  • 65% reported improvements to confidence and self-esteem.
  • Overcoming loneliness and isolation was a big gain, with 67% saying they had better and more frequent communication with friends and family.

And finally, on Wednesday we celebrated another important milestone in our Widening Digital Participation work with the NHS, where I was joined by Dr Ollie Hart. Ollie is a GP from Sloan Medical Centre in Sheffield and together with local partners in Sheffield he has been integral in referring his patients to the UK online centres “digital surgery”, run by the Heeley Development Trust.

I’ll be blogging more about the Widening Digital Participation programme soon, but in the meantime take a look at http://nhs.tinderfoundation.org/.

We’re also holding a great Tweetchat next Thursday to find out what GPs, CCGs and other health practitioners think of the Widening Digital Participation programme. You can find out more here, and so do join in if you’re interested using the hashtag #NHSWDP – we hope to see you there!

Closing the health gap using digital inclusion and data

Today in the Guardian Online, I’ve got an article arguing that the preventative care revolution depends on closing the digital divide.

Across the UK, 11 million people have poor digital skills and half those who are offline have a disability. Digital inclusion is now a matter of life and death.

Read the article in full over on The Guardian Online