Will 2020 see a digitally inclusive Britain?

Mike Sewart
By , - Enabling Digital

Digital inclusion was under the spotlight last week at techUK’s opening the doors – digital inclusion by 2020 event, which saw policy makers and digital thinkers come together to discuss techUK’s call for all UK adults to be digitally included by 2020.

The event addressed the measures the UK is putting in place to guarantee digital inclusion – which they defined as ensuring all UK adults have the skills to communicate, find services and access information online – and the challenges the nation is facing in doing so.

Eleri Pengelly, Deputy Director, Government Digital Service (GDS), highlighted the “huge crossover” between social and financial disadvantage and digital exclusion. She explained that the GDS, in conjunction with around 70 partners across the UK, is working out how to get – and more importantly, keep – these people online.

“There are lots of different reasons why people aren’t online, and one size doesn’t fit all” Pengelly claimed, before identifying trust as a key barrier to digital inclusion. “Fears of government spying and being subject to scams,” she continued, remain real concerns to those not currently online.

CEO of Go ON UK Rachel Neaman identified three obstacles to digital inclusion – cost, skills and access – and explained that the deepening skills gap is seeing citizens and SMEs without digital knowhow getting left further and further behind as technologies continue to evolve.

She revealed that one in five UK citizens and a third of SMEs and charities lack basic digital skills, and maintained that motivating these people is the key to digital inclusion. With the move to digital expected to save the government an estimated £1.7b per year, moreover, this is something we can’t afford to ignore.

Helen Milner, CEO of the Tinder Foundation, cited research identifying the cost of giving all adults basic digital skills by 2020 as £875m. Creating more independent and interconnected local support networks is a must if the government is to successfully tackle digital exclusion, she concluded.

Vodafone’s Senior Government Affairs Manager, Graham Dunn, brought mobile firmly into the digital debate; claiming that the smartphones and tablets are the key to getting people online by making digital technology more accessible and usable.

Dunn identified a two-tiered approach to tackling digital inclusion – one that must include government support for a network that is capable of delivering the internet to every UK citizen, and a commitment from government to make its own services mobile-optimised.

While the UK is facing a unique and complex set of challenges in bringing its citizens online, it’s hugely encouraging to see both the public and private sector recognising that digital access is integral to economic success.

While a fully digitally inclusive Britain might not be on the cards just yet, the horizon certainly looks bright for a nation where everyone is included in the drive towards digital.

 

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