With the news that one in five UK firms plan job cuts as the Job Retention Scheme tapers down, the UK is in desperate need of an avenue through which to build back the economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused devastation to so many. It has also, helpfully, bolstered the awareness of digital in reducing inequalities and to help enable a more equal playing field in which to level up the UK. In an increasingly digital age, the pandemic showcased the magnificent ability of humans to transform and adapt, using technology to ensure warmth, food, access to education, work, health services, family and friends. But this was not possible for everyone, and the digital divide and pandemic mix has left those most in need of the very support it can give, even more marginalised.
Let us be honest, the UK has been in better shape. Even without the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Equality Trust highlighted that income and regional inequality has been on a steady rise in the UK since the mid-70s. Researchers at Heriot Watt University and others have found that the increasing importance of digital services in our economy will exacerbate this inequality, as those from working class, single parent and ethnic minority backgrounds are much less likely to have access to the opportunities that digital access can bring. Many people will be unable to compete in an innovative and evolving labour market which is fully embracing digitalisation.
It is unequivocal and indisputable that digital exclusion is now one of the biggest strategic issues in tackling poverty. The scale of impact of digital exclusion to employment, health and other key areas of everyday life is devastating and the consequences of exclusion and our nation being unable to manage and be compatible with modernised technologies, should not be underestimated. Digital exclusion not only dramatically limits social mobility but coupled with this, our ability as a nation to modernise and drive UK productivity along with the rest of the world. This notion is not just theory, for example, The World Bank states that the digital economy is already worth 15.5% of global GDP, whilst also growing at a quicker rate than any other sector.
Now that I have set the rather bleak scene which our economy and country currently lies in, I am convinced that we have the benefit of hindsight, brilliant organisations and knowledge of what works from the UK and other countries, and a crucial opportunity to mend and bridge the broken divide.
I was honoured when as a Trustee of the Learning Foundation, Paul and Niel asked for my help in understanding what we should do next. It feels like a full circle for me and a chance to reflect how the DPA could be of most help. From early days as a retailer with PC World, I have learned about devices, access, and markets, from the third sector, the impact of partnerships and the benefit of local with RaceOnline2012 and helping to establish Go ON UK. I have also understood the opportunities and challenges within Government and arm’s length bodies while working at BECTA on Home Access and the Money and Pensions Service as well as, the tremendous value leveraging corporate scale for good, with data, space, partnerships, and people at Lloyds Banking Group can bring. More recently from working with true thought leaders such as Nick Watkins and Peter Bailey at MaPS this insight has been coupled with the behavioural science behind social movements. I feel lucky to have had such experiences, with great teams’ leaders and partners in the Digital Inclusion and wider Communities. There have been many successes in closing the gap, but put simply, it is still not enough and I personally don’t believe that any one organisation nor a group of a few can now fix this.
However, I am feeling optimistic, unlike when I first started. There is much more awareness and we know due to initiatives such as Futuredotnow, and many others small and large, there are now so many more partners and people focused on this agenda. Included within this are the partners with years of front-line experience and hindsight to know what works, here and internationally, and we need their and others recommendations to be accepted, joined up with the end-to-end needs of the people who need the most support, with proper and sustainable funding and crucially placed into a cohesive and joined up delivery framework.
So, I truly believe now is the time and following reflective conversations with the Learning Foundation Board, the amazing support of Dixons Carphone, the Positive Transformation Group, and networks they have introduced us to along with other DPA members including the 80 or so other organisations we have listened to, we think we have a plan.
To effectively fight digital poverty with members of the Digital Divide community, we believe we can facilitate and convene collective action to:
- Enable an efficient and cohesive movement – We want to automate and transform the way partnerships work and facilitate cohesion. We want to digitally transform the partner journey, to know and share what works, to see at a touch of a button where the help is needed the most. We want to dramatically reduce the amount of time and effort it takes to match the thousands of partners and people who reach the most vulnerable in the UK, to those who really want to and can help but do not know how best to.
- Be more user centric in design – We want to broaden the narrative and the solutions to consider all the determinants of digital poverty, not just skills, motivation, and access. For example, skills and education is futile if access to technology and ongoing support is not part of the solution. We need to gather, reflect, and understand the lessons from what so many other successful programmes have used to change fundamental behaviours. Such as a need to build in consistency and repetition of messages which resonate, with alignment to policy changes, to inspire and enable “people like me” support enablers with right time and place interventions based on key life moments.
- Deliver one Plan – This is everyone’s issue and opportunity, and everyone has a responsibility to fix it.I sometimes think that is the very reason why the divide still exists, digital is ubiquitous and so it is hard to give one person or department in a company, charity, or Government the responsibility to fix it. Crucially no matter how ambitious it might seem, we need to get cracking on supporting Government, Industry, and everyone to deliver to one cohesive co-ordinated Digital Poverty transformation delivery plan.
- Inspire Interventions for Inclusion – There are many areas, especially with young people where there is a lack of insight, evaluation, and business case for change. So, this is where we will initially focus our work.
I sincerely believe that through helping to tackle digital poverty in this manner, to support the DPA community, we can truly be a force for good in helping build back a UK fit to fight in the modern world, and we can make sure everyone is on the right side of Digital Transformation.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, we are still very much in early days and would really love your feedback.