June saw two major launches at the Digital Poverty Alliance – one the first step in our strategic aim of ending digital poverty by 2030, in the form of our Evidence Review, and the other in our ongoing support for people needing devices now – in the form of our roadshow of launches for Tech4Families, funded by the generosity of Currys’ customers.

Our Evidence Review, launched on 27th June in the House of Lords, is not just a step, but a giant leap for digital poverty and how we tackle its root causes.  For the first time we have a synthesis of over 100 different reports, consultation activities and our Parliamentary Summit, all analysed and curated by Dr Kira Allmann.  And this report highlights, with evidence and data, the multitude of facets around digital poverty.  These are more than just stand out quotes and hard-hitting statistics – taken as a whole this will be the first time that the digital poverty community can see a 360 degree view of every element of the digital poverty crisis we are seeking to end by 2030.  Please read it – and if you don’t feel you have time, please – please – read the summary, and you might find you want to read on.

Dr Allmann’s review for the DPA shows us that traditional approaches aren’t working.  Donating devices will not alone fix digital poverty.  She highlights that digital poverty is a social problem – not just a lack of technology.  Digital skills training – available in so many places – isn’t reaching people where they need to be.  Assumptions made about groups of people don’t work.  And she also highlights what many of us know but yet don’t realise – everyone is a digital citizen – every person in the UK will have a digital footprint, even though millions of people remain either totally or largely offline, through the data held about every single one of us.

The assumptions made in every day design of systems, so many of which are now online, disadvantage so many.  As the digital world grows, with more and more services online and the expectation that online provision can meet the needs of most people, so the divide grows.  As new technology evolves so rapidly, people are left behind even faster, and the accelerating pace of change is not just daunting, but both financially and mentally impossible to keep up with.

Earlier in the month, before the Evidence Review was launched, I toured all five of the areas benefitting from the Tech4Families scheme with colleagues from the DPA, and met colleagues from the Currys stores within these areas.  Every location shows high levels of digital exclusion, with four of the areas being based around coastal communities, rather than cities.  Everyone we met on that tour wanted to help and be part of the solution, and every family we met told a different story about why they would benefit from the laptop being gifted to their son or daughter.  There were different perspectives in every area and every family – but one strand that fed throughout was that the laptop would give that child, for the first time, full access not just to extra curricula educational support, but to their homework.  Children needing these devices in order to access the homework set by their schools which is now online, and to which they had either no access, or had to try to attempt to tackle through a smartphone or goodwill from friends.

Of course, everyone on the scheme will not just receive a laptop.  They will have access to resources to help them get set up, and how to get the best from their new digital experience.  Our terrific partners will provide information on internet safety and they will be signposted to the free digital badges from iDEA.  Those in most need will receive help with connectivity to get them started.

In every location’s launch event, I highlighted that millions remain offline, 11 million people lack even the basic digital skills they need, and yet 82% of jobs in this country require digital skills.  That’s 11 million people who are restricted to 18% of jobs.  We are not talking about people going into IT – because this tells us that almost every job needs a level of experience in using digital technology – if you work in an office, in retail, want to be an entrepreneur – you need to be able to engage with online services.  And, of course, finding a job usually happens online – finding a career almost certainly so.  That’s not to mention that healthcare requires an econsult form, Council services are accessed through an online account, welfare applications are online.  Comparing energy providers to save money?  Online.  Booking a Covid jab?  Online.  

From the perspective of the UK as a digital power, as Dr Allmann highlighted at the launch, there is such an opportunity to be missed.  Gigabit Britain can’t work if millions are offline.  This isn’t about infrastructure, and it isn’t about elite skills.  This is about ensuring that everyone has the ability, capability and awareness of opportunity to get online.  To be engaged citizens, to be able to access services, to find jobs, and by doing all of this to make a better future for themselves and for the country.

So what now?  The Evidence Review will be our springboard to creating our National Delivery Plan.  This plan will analyse all the tasks and actions needed, how, when and who, to end digital poverty by 2030.  This landmark plan will be the route path by which everyone can come together to make digital poverty something of the past.  Who do I mean by everyone?  Well – everyone.  This is a societal problem, and therefore we need government, industry, charities and even individuals to come together.  No single group can fix this, and nor can we assume this is a problem for the tech industry, it’s for every organisation that uses technology – which is every organisation.

Whilst you are waiting for that plan and wondering what you can do, we also launched our Pledge Portal.  Here, anyone – and everyone – can tell us they care about digital poverty and agree with our mission, whilst choosing what actions they can take right now, today, and then telling us how that went.  I urge you, if you are reading this, to choose a pledge right now – some are quick and easy, some more complex.  Whether you share our message on social media, open up you data to us, signpost your stakeholders to our resources list, offer funding or cement tackling digital poverty into your corporate strategy, it will make a difference.  Please use the portal to tell us what you are planning to do.

Of course Tech4Families will continue – thanks to every Currys customer who makes a 25p donation with their in-store purchase – bringing laptops to our five first areas, and then further afield.  Every child who receives a laptop has the potential to change their future.  But let’s not just help some children.  

Our first policy principle to come out of the report is that digital is a basic right.  So let’s end digital poverty by 2030 – and I hope you will get involved and be part of the solution.

Elizabeth Anderson, COO, Digital Poverty Alliance.