16 Oct 2023
by Jake Wall

Get Online Week should be about driving action on digital inclusion

techUK is proud to support Get Online Week, an annual campaign to help people get online and learn digital skills.

As we find ourselves at the start of Get Online Week, the spotlight is cast on a crucial aspect of modern life - being online. The internet, once a luxury, has morphed into a necessity, intertwining with every facet of our existence. From connecting with loved ones, shopping, and accessing essential services, to finding answers to pressing questions, the digital realm is where life unfolds.

But whilst we recognise the digital world and its endless possibilities during 'Get Online Week', we must ensure that the focus is on supporting those on the fringes of this digital society.

Being online is not just about keeping up with social media trends or streaming the latest shows, it's about being part of a rapidly evolving world. A world where AI is reshaping the workforce, and new tools and applications are emerging every day. It's about having access to opportunities, knowledge, and tools that not only enrich our lives but are becoming vital for basic societal participation.

However, the digital landscape is not level. Many are left in the digital dark due to barriers including a lack of access, skills, or even awareness. This digital divide widens the gap between different communities, further entrenching existing inequalities.

According to the Good Things Foundation:

  • 10.2m lack the most basic digital skills needed to use the internet.
  • 1 in 14 households have no home internet access.
  • Non-users are twice as likely to have a disability or health conditions, and 12x more likely to be over 65.
  • Limited users are 5x more likely to come from low-income households and 6x more likely to be over 65.
  • 20% of unemployed people are unable to do any essential workplace digital tasks.

And this divide will be brought into even sharper relief as tech advances at pace.

Many techUK members are taking steps to help tackle this issue:

  • Vodafone offer free SIM cards with data connectivity to charities supporting the digitally excluded, and partners with Barnardo’s to provide donated devices to people in need.
  • Virgin Media O2 have donated £2 million to the Good Things Foundation to help disadvantaged people – including those on low incomes, minoritised ethnic groups, low-skilled workers and older people – to access free connectivity, devices and digital skills training. 
  • BT Group have partnered with AbilityNet on a programme to help address the digital divide among people aged 65+ in the UK, 1 in 4 of whom lack the skills to use the internet independently.
  • LCR Connect – a joint venture of Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and techUK member ITS Technology Group to deliver ultrafast network infrastructure across the Liverpool City Region – undertakes works with schools and communities, provides charitable support and is involved in non-for-profit activities with third sector partners to drive digital inclusion under the LCR Connect for Good umbrella.

This is just a snapshot of how the tech sector is helping to drive digital inclusion, and it is essential to not just acknowledge the problem but to actively work towards solutions. 

techUK gave evidence to the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee on digital exclusion and the cost of living where it set out its policy recommendations to ensure everyone can benefit from digital technologies. You can watch this session in full here.

This included a recommendation outlined in our UK Tech Plan to bring an end to digital poverty by 2040. We believe that to achieve this, the government should set a National Inclusion target for the next decade, with this objective championed by Cabinet Office Minister for Digital Inclusion and supported by a Digital Inclusion Unit in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. These steps aim not just to address digital inclusion but to prioritise it, ensuring that as the digital tide rises, it lifts all boats.

'Get Online Week' is not just about one week, but a call to action to ensure that the doors to the digital realm are open to all, unlocking a world of opportunity and inclusivity. techUK and its members are proud to support in that mission.

Read more about Get Online Week here and discover the hundreds of free digital skills events hosted from the Good Things Foundation and community partners across the country.

And get in touch to share how your organisation is taking action to help people get online and benefit from digital technologies. We want to hear from you and highlight your activity around this crucial endeavour.

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Jake Wall

Jake Wall

Policy Manager, Skills and Future of Work, techUK