Learning from lockdown: 12 steps to eliminate digital exclusion

Written by Georgina Bowyer, Anna Grant and Douglas White

It is time to act on digital exclusion. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the scale of digital exclusion in the UK has been exposed and exacerbated beyond previous understanding. In response, new initiatives have been rapidly developed and delivered. These new initiatives have substantially accelerated progress towards ensuring that those in all corners of the UK have the digital device, internet connectivity and skills to access all of the essential connections that digital provides.

These interventions have been of huge value — but there remains so much more to do. Ofcom research shows that 11% of the UK population still do not have access to the internet at home at all; in addition there are those who do not have the appropriate device, quality of connection or required skills in order to make use of the digital potential.1 Digital exclusion has existed for many years — the current crisis has simply highlighted the depth and breadth of the challenge and demonstrated why tackling it is so urgent. As restrictions change there is an opportunity to build on all that has been learnt, and set a powerful new ambition to eliminate digital exclusion in the UK — so that a crisis response is never required again[1].

12 recommendations for action

These recommendations have been developed by the Carnegie UK Trust following our work on digital inclusion over 10 years, and particularly drawing on learning and reflections from the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown period. Further context is available below, and for our previous reports and digital inclusion blog series, please visit: www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk


Why digital exclusion matters While digital exclusion is a long-standing problem, it has often struggled for attention and resources in recent years in a crowded public policy landscape. We have a relatively poor comprehension of the impact that digital exclusion has, compared to other aspects of social and economic life. This is partly due to a historic lack of coherent, consistent national statistics on digital access and skills, combined with challenges of linking between this data and other administrative and health data. However, the current crisis has re-emphasised both our increasing reliance on technology as a society, as communities and as individuals; and the significant disadvantage experienced by those who are not sufficiently digitally connected. The negative impacts of digital exclusion are felt in all areas of life, from our ability to access work and resulting impacts on income, quality of education, availability of healthcare, costs of goods or services, and even the ability to connect with loved ones during incredibly challenging times. Digitally excluded individuals risk losing their voice and visibility as government services and democratic engagement are increasingly moved online and digital exclusion impinges on children’s rights to education, information and participation.

Building on crisis response

Responses to the Covid-19 crisis have shown what can be done to help overcome deeply entrenched barriers to digital inclusion for some groups. New initiatives have sprung into action providing devices, connectivity and skills support. The work of many public, voluntary and commercial organisations during this time should be recognised and commended. But interventions are not yet sufficient to meet the scale of the challenge. Only a small proportion of those digitally excluded have been reached, some jurisdictions and geographic areas have responded better than others, and there has often been a reliance on a few very committed individuals. While many initiatives have been open to learn from one another in a way we have rarely seen before, there has also been duplication of effort with limited time and space for sharing best practice or lessons learned.

Eradicating digital exclusion

We have to act now to eliminate digital exclusion and ensure that we remove the need to rely on emergency responses in future. We need to learn from the interventions that have been deployed successfully and put in place resources to enable these to be improved, tailored, scaled and extended to reach all digitally excluded individuals. This is an essential step to ensure that existing inequalities are not further compounded through digital exclusion. Whether you are an adult looking for work or a child in education, digital is now a basic necessity, and must be made available to everyone. Ownership of the digital inclusion agenda needs to be shared across government at all levels, while businesses and charities also have vital roles to play. What it means to be truly digitally included will shift over time. We need ambition and recognition that tackling digital exclusion needs sustained intervention, resourcing and attention. The UK is up to this task. Digital inclusion is a crucial element in ensuring a fair and equal society, and should be a central plank in our collective recovery and success in the years ahead.

[1] Ofcom Technology Tracker 2020, released 30 April 2020, https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/data/statistics/stats20 QE2. Do you or does anyone in your household have access to the internet at HOME (via any device, e.g. PC, mobile phone etc)?

Originally published at https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk on October 15, 2020.



At Carnegie UK we’re all about wellbeing. https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/

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