techUK gives evidence to the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee on digital exclusion and the cost of living

techUK gives evidence to the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee on digital exclusion and the cost of living.

The Communications and Digital Committee has been looking at the impact of digital exclusion on individuals and more broadly how digital exclusion affects the economy. Digital exclusion persists in the UK points to several – often complimentary – reasons for someone being or becoming digitally excluded, including:

  • Capability: not having the skills to use a device and/or navigate the internet with confidence;
  • Cost: not being able to afford both a connection package (i.e., a fixed broadband or mobile plan) or a device such as a smartphone, laptop or tablet which can connect to the internet;
  • Choice: choosing not to use the internet for a variety of reasons.

Additionally, people may overcome one barrier and then face another that stops them using the internet. Getting people online will require interventions across all the barriers. The barriers to digital inclusion, while more apparent as a result of increasing digitalisation driven in part by the pandemic, are also barriers to broader societal inclusion. This challenge is faced on a global level. The United Nations includes the reduction of the digital divide as its Sustainable Development Goal 9.

techUK has provided written evidence and Antony Walker, Deputy CEO, gave oral evidence to the inquiry.

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In 2014, techUK called for delivery of a ‘digital for everyone’ inclusion strategy by 2020, to ensure that all UK adults have the basic digital skills required to communicate, find goods and services and access information online. We need further collective recognition to get everyone up to the digital start line and motived to keep building their digital capability. techUK and the tech industry has considered this issue for some time with the continued digital development of our economy and society. It is right that the concerns around these changes are discussed and addressed.

techUK has made a number of skills specific policy recommendations:

  • Policy cohesion and creation of a National Inclusion target: The creation of a dedicated Cabinet Office minister for digital inclusion. Reflecting the multiple barriers to digital inclusion, policy levers are found across multiple departments. The skills agenda formally sits with the Department for Education. Yet it was the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport which published a digital inclusion strategy in 2014, though its most recent digital strategy in 2022 had few mentions of digital inclusion. The Department for Work and Pensions could be seen to play a role in supporting those that cannot afford to be online by subsidising device and connectivity costs. A Digital Inclusion Minister would help to create a joined-up approach and strengthen the link not just between Government departments but also, shine a light on the barrier that digital exclusion is to further public service digitisation. The creation of an ambitious digital inclusion national target, accompanied by a 5-10 year strategy that focuses on providing everyone with the right access, skills, motivation, and trust to use the internet.
  • The creation of an online ‘Digital Skills Toolkit 2.0’ to signpost to digital skills courses: techUK wants to work with government to deliver a transformational package to ensure every individual has the opportunity to explore and build a digital skills portfolio that enables them to access the jobs of the future. Building on the success of the government’s Skills Toolkit, an end-to-end ‘Digital Skills Toolkit 2.0’ should be developed to make digital opportunities and pathways more transparent and accessible to more people. It would enable people across all areas of society to understand the digital job opportunities available to them and the skills pathways to access those jobs.
  • Work with civil society organisations: Civil society plays a critical role in supporting digital inclusion, particularly in addressing the needs of vulnerable and marginalised groups. Civil society organisations can provide targeted support, such as training and digital skills development that is tailored to the needs of specific communities. They can also act as intermediaries between citizens and government, advocating for more inclusive and equitable digital policies and services. This work could largely be enhanced if there is better coordination at a local level, particularly to match the supply of digital inclusion support with demand. Local authorities have a critical role to play to facilitate an integrated and joined up local digital inclusion ecosystem. Examples of great practice include the work at a regional level across Greater Manchester and in Leeds with the 100% Digital Leeds initiative. However, creating these kinds of ecosystems is knowledge and resource intensive and so there is a role for funding and support to help local authorities across the UK build up capacity.
Antony Walker

Antony Walker

Deputy CEO, techUK

Nimmi Patel

Nimmi Patel

Head of Skills, Talent and Diversity, techUK