UK National Delivery Plan 2023
Increase local capacity to provide joined-up digital inclusion support to individuals and communities.
What already exists
A wealth of valuable resources and services are available to individuals and communities seeking locally-focused solutions with respect to digital inclusion. These resources come in the form of advisory services such as Citizens Advice, as well as community and charity groups, the National Digital Inclusion Network, Housing Associations, and other services that provide direct support to the public. In addition, public services like the NHS and support services provided by Jobcentre Plus and the Citizens Advice Bureau are well placed to provide digital inclusion support.
Ultimately, ending digital poverty is contingent on the efforts of individuals and organisations at a local level. Approaches will need to be developed in the community and delivered by trusted individuals. Although there are numerous examples across the UK of community-based organisations providing digital inclusion support, this support is often predicated on goodwill but may not always be attuned to the complex needs of local populations. Achieving a sense of cohesion, that community organisations, skills providers, local authorities, health and care services, local government services, and employers are all aligned, is no easy task.
A place-based approach to digital inclusion will not adhere to a single approach. Instead, it is important to capture knowledge and insight from successful local areas, and identify opportunities for scaling up solutions. Strong leadership within local government is crucial, along with the ability to align an ecosystem of delivery partners around a common vision.
This section will cover the critical role of local services, the importance of data and information sharing and the role of social housing and community providers.
Actions for 2023/24 Phase 1
6.1 Raise awareness across local authorities on the role that digital inclusion can play as a strategic enabler of local priorities.
6.2 Ensure housing associations are supported to drive forward digital inclusion support for their residents.
6.3 To pilot approaches to enable local areas to capture data on the supply and demand for digital inclusion support.
6.4 Work to promote best practice such as the digital exclusion risk index and the digital inclusion toolkit.
Actions by 2030 Phase 2-4
6.5 Support local and national NHS and health and social care services to embed digital inclusion.
6.6 Advocate for mechanisms to build local capacity to embed digital inclusion within local areas.
6.7 Create consistent and transferable ways for local authorities to gather and organise information about digital poverty and the resources available to help, with a focus on improving collaboration and information-sharing among services that serve those with complex needs.
6.8 Develop detailed personas to better understand how barriers can be tackled.
6.9 Improve signposting within local government and DWP services for digital support.
Theory of Change
- UK Digital Poverty Evidence Review
- National Delivery Plan
- National Delivery Committee
- Digital inclusion ecosystem
- Stakeholder engagement and support
The role of local services
Local government has a critical role in driving forward the digital inclusion agenda. While there are various initiatives to tackle digital poverty at a local level, several challenges must be overcome. Firstly, there may be limited awareness across some local authorities about digital inclusion and its significance as an enabler of other important priorities, such as education, employment, and health. Therefore, it is crucial to raise awareness about the need for action on digital poverty among local authorities who may not have prioritised this. Across England, the Digital Inclusion Network run by the Local Government Association is well placed to take this forward. Alongside this, mechanisms should be explored to raise awareness with local authorities across each of the home nations. It is important that this capacity is available across the UK as digital exclusion is not exclusive to areas with high deprivation as it can also be found within affluent communities too. As a result, programmes that rely on funds linked to Indices of Multiple Deprivation, including the Shared Prosperity Fund and levelling-up funding, may fail to address large amounts of digital exclusion.
Secondly, to embed digital inclusion across communities, strong local leadership is required to drive the agenda forward. Local authorities play a critical role in this process by securing community and political buy-in to create ecosystems that support digital inclusion. They must work closely with community organisations, skills providers, health and care services, government services, and employers to establish a collaborative approach that meets the needs of residents. Thirdly, coordinating efforts across local areas can be challenging. Combined Authorities, under the leadership of powerful metro mayors, provide an ideal mechanism to coordinate activity within England. However, in the rest of the UK, local authorities may face barriers to coordination, including a lack of resources. As such, we believe that each local authority should have a designated digital inclusion lead to help join up activity at a local level, engage key stakeholders around a common vision and work to overcome the practical and technical inhibitors of digital inclusion. Alongside this, there needs to be adequate support for local services to build capacity, including investing in technology infrastructure, staff training, and community engagement.
In addition to local government, there is a key role for NHS and health and social care services across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to play in relation to digital inclusion. It is important that NHS frameworks, any future NHS Long-Term Plan and the Digital Maturity Assessments conducted by NHS trusts embed a focus on digital inclusion. For the NHS, the benefits of digital transformation are significant. We could see, for example, increased use of social prescribing by GPs to direct patients towards apps, information, resources, and community-based digital inclusion support. The pressure on frontline services means that healthcare will increasingly be offered digitally, requiring the introduction of technology to older people, who may not have the skills to use these options. Yet, healthcare technology needs to be introduced in a way that is sustainable and inclusive to avoid creating adverse consequences for vulnerable groups. Alliance members such as NHS Midlands Partnership Foundation Trust are engaged in innovative work to ensure digital inclusion is built into services, and we welcome the introduction of a new NHS England digital inclusion framework. Additionally, the new NHS England Digital Inclusion Framework provides great opportunities to ensure that digital inclusion is prioritised across Health services in England. The potential for healthcare technology to improve outcomes for older people is significant, but age is one of the biggest predictors of digital exclusion and so it is necessary to understand the barriers preventing older people from accessing technology and work to overcome these through person-centred and inclusive models of support. Where, however, it is not possible to overcome these barriers, non-digital options must also be protected.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also has a critical role to play in working with individuals at high risk of digital exclusion. It is essential to raise awareness among frontline public sector staff, including DWP work coaches and staff through every local Jobcentre Plus, about the available options for addressing digital poverty. Yet, as outlined in mission four, this awareness-raising should not just be limited to front-line staff but also to civil servants across national governments. Both industry and civil society can support the training and upskilling of public sector workers to ensure they have the necessary digital skills to deliver digital-first public services.
Building on existing work to create detailed persona profiles of individuals who are at the highest risk of digital exclusion would also be beneficial, and integrating these profiles into service design in both the public and private sectors can help ensure signposting to relevant support. Developing detailed personas can also provide policymakers and practitioners with a better understanding of their needs, preferences, and behaviours, which can inform the design of more user-centred interventions and can aid the development of tailored messaging that encourages digital interaction and engagement.
Data and information sharing
Securing additional funding for local areas to scale up community-led digital inclusion support and build capacity will be essential. The DPA has already begun to develop a supply and demand map for digital inclusion across the UK.2 However, there are technical challenges in capturing, processing and refreshing the data needed to maintain it as a useful resource for practitioners, researchers, and policymakers. As such, rather than creating a national directory of support that would require intensive and ongoing resourcing, efforts should be directed towards increasing local capacity to gather and analyse this data. Potentially, the work of GMCA in developing the Digital Exclusion Risk Index54 provides a useful model that could be replicated across other areas. The DPA is currently investigating the feasibility of pilot projects to develop and refine a model process for how this information can be captured across local areas in a way that is standardised. If successful, we hope that these pilots can be replicated in other localities and provide a framework for how areas can map the supply and demand for digital inclusion support. In addition, Alliance members will work with colleagues across local authorities to understand how local authorities can capture, coordinate, and share data with respect to digital inclusion. This may include, for example, developing data standards frameworks that can provide guidance for local authorities in collecting and analysing data on digital inclusion.
It is also important to share examples of resources such as the Digital Inclusion Toolkit and the work of the LGA Digital Inclusion Pathfinder Projects across local authorities more widely. Opportunities should also be identified for co-designing digital inclusion services with potential beneficiaries. Another useful initiative that would assist with scaling is developing toolkits for digital inclusion approaches that are customised to different place types. For example, sharing roadmaps for building digital inclusion ecosystems in urban communities, rural communities, and coastal communities. Each area is likely to have some level of uniqueness with respect to its digital environment, but if segmented by place-based typologies, there will undoubtedly be insights and ideas that can be scaled to similar areas.
Social housing and community providers
Housing associations have a crucial role to play in supporting digital inclusion efforts, particularly in providing support to residents who are at high risk of digital exclusion. Many social housing providers have implemented innovative projects that provide residents with devices, connectivity, and support to ensure they can access the digital tools and resources they need. Alliance members are committed to working closely with social housing providers to identify opportunities to scale up these digital inclusion initiatives. To this end, the DPA will collaborate with the HACT Digital Inclusion Network to promote the sharing of information and innovative practices across the sector. One policy option that could significantly expand the support provided by housing associations is for the government to mandate free connectivity, devices, and skills training for social housing residents. However, such an initiative would require adequate funding to ensure its success. Furthermore, practical guidance for housing associations on how to embed digital inclusion across the sector may be needed.
Advisory services such as Citizens Advice and community organisations like food banks also have a significant role to play in supporting digital inclusion efforts. These services are often the first point of contact for individuals with basic needs, and it’s important to ensure they have the resources and support necessary to provide digital assistance to those they serve. Like housing associations, ensuring that community organisations can either directly provide or signpost people to appropriate support will be critically important.
Why digital access matters:
Connecting local communities.
Why digital access matters to local communities:
The Connecting Scotland programme identified and provided a much-needed solution to people at risk or experiencing digital exclusion as a result of not having an appropriate device, connectivity or the skills, confidence, and motivation to use Internet. But it also brought our attention to a range of organisations we previously weren’t aware of with fantastic leaders and teams who are working to help people facing digital exclusion.
– James McKee, Team Leader: Engagement and Inclusion at East Ayrshire Council
A national digital inclusion fund would enable us, as a Network, to take a collaborative approach to effectively tackle poverty and inequality. So, when we think about the social and health equality, it’s the ability to keep connected with friends, family and loved ones and would also help to combat loneliness and isolation, thus improving mental wellbeing.
– James McKee, Team Leader: Engagement and Inclusion at East Ayrshire Council
East Ayrshire in Scotland has made great strides in promoting digital inclusion. East Ayrshire has a Digital Access Network which was integral in delivering the Connected Scotland programme during the Covid-19 pandemic, that has benefitted over 1,500 families and contributed to supporting almost 16,000 digitally excluded people to get online. The pandemic highlighted that many people in the community faced digital exclusion. Additionally, a specific need was identified to support individuals who were at risk of being scammed.
To address this problem, James McKee, Team Leader: Engagement and Inclusion at East Ayrshire Council, initiated the support of the East Ayrshire Digital Access Network and recognised the power of the community in addressing these challenges.
James coordinated meetings with key individuals across the Council, including Trading Standards, Education and Vibrant Communities, Police Scotland and other key stakeholders who all recognised the need for specialist support for individuals who had been scammed or need assistance in navigating the digital world.
A Digital Champions Network is embedded within the Digital Access Network and aims to create supportive environment for individuals and organisations to realise the benefits of digital access while ensuring the safety and security of community members.
East Ayrshire Council has a strong track record of working with their communities. They established a movement called Vibrant Communities in 2012, which worked to identify communities and support them through Community Asset Transfers and community action. The Service is integrated throughout the Council to ensure that communities are empowered and enabled to make decisions for themselves.
This community-focused approach was successful in addressing the challenges faced by East Ayrshire. Over 60 Community Asset Transfers have been completed to date, and participatory budgeting principles have been implemented, allowing communities to take control of their resources, and run them more efficiently.
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Read the overview
We have condensed the following National Delivery Plan 2023 into a 10 page PDF. This provides an overview of our approach, the six missions and their suggested actions.