As the Head of Policy and Insights at the Digital Poverty Alliance, I navigate the landscape of digital inclusion daily, witnessing both its challenges and transformative potential. Our society stands at a crossroads, where the digital divide not only delineates access but also impacts the very fabric of economic and social well-being. The UK’s 2024 budget, whilst comprehensive in many areas, has overlooked a pivotal opportunity to address this divide. Yet, the case for digital inclusion extends far beyond a mere oversight, underscored by compelling statistics and human stories alike. 

Consider the profound economic benefits: An investment in digital skills training can lead to an approximate £17 billion increase in yearly earnings for 6 million people. This isn’t just a figure on a balance sheet; it represents families moving out of poverty, young adults securing their first jobs, and older workers retraining for the digital age. Similarly, enhancing digital access could boost yearly financial management improvements by £4-6 billion for 7-9 million people. This translates into more individuals saving for their futures, avoiding debt, and making informed financial decisions. Moreover, the potential for government efficiency savings is nearly £1 billion. These are funds that could be redirected towards further investment in public services, amplifying the impact of every pound spent. For more details on these findings, refer to the recent report prepared by Deloitte for the Digital Poverty Alliance. 

But the value of digital inclusion transcends economic metrics. Improved digital access combined with enhanced health literacy is estimated to save 18-24,000 lives annually among those over 65. This statistic alone should be a clarion call for action. It’s about grandparents who can manage their health online, connecting with services and information that could extend their lives and improve their quality of life. 

However, the recent budget’s focus on advancing digital skills and AI, whilst commendable, necessitates a broader lens. The initiatives, whilst steps in the right direction, underscore the pressing need for inclusivity, ensuring that these advancements reach not only the high-skilled workforce but also those presently outside the digital mainstream. As we pivot towards innovative solutions, such as reporting crimes via video calls, it’s essential to assess and mitigate any potential disparities this shift might introduce, particularly for the digitally disconnected. This balanced approach will not only enhance national competitiveness but also ensure that the fruits of technological progress are equitably shared, reinforcing social inclusivity. 

The Digital Poverty Alliance remains steadfast in our commitment to bridging this divide, but our success hinges on collaborative efforts. Government, industry, non-profits, and communities must unite to ensure that digital inclusion becomes a cornerstone of our collective agenda. 

Investing in digital inclusion is not merely an economic calculation; it’s a commitment to building a more equitable, informed, and connected society. The potential benefits are clear, from significant economic gains to the priceless value of lives saved and improved. As we reflect on the missed opportunity in the 2024 budget, let us also see it as a rallying point. Together, we can and must advocate for a future where digital inclusion is not an afterthought but a fundamental pillar of our societal progress. 

The Digital Poverty Alliance is ready to lead this charge, inviting partners across all sectors to join us. By prioritising digital inclusion, we’re not just changing numbers; we’re changing lives. Let’s seize this moment to ensure that every individual, regardless of their background or circumstances, has the opportunity to thrive in the digital age. The imperative is clear, and the time to act is now. 

Joel Tiller, Head of Policy and Insights, Digital Poverty Alliance