In 2021, we can start to build back better
08 Jan 2021 |Written by Helen Milner OBE
2020 was, without a doubt, an extraordinary year – though hardly in the positive sense of the word. The pandemic, economic recession, and general complexity of last year were exhausting. COVID-19 has exacerbated the digital divide, whilst highlighting how essential it is that everyone is able to get online safely and easily.
As a result of the events of 2020, Good Things Foundation has had to adapt, and we responded rapidly to the first lockdown, moving our work online and supporting our network of community centres as they shifted to remote support.
A major part of our efforts last year was Everyone Connected, which delivered devices and data to thousands of the most vulnerable households. We paired this scheme with our leading digital skills courses – after all, there’s little point in giving someone a tablet if they don’t know how to use it! With a new national lockdown now in place, it’s clear that this strategy will be key to fixing the digital divide.
We also worked with businesses to tackle the Digital Divide in other ways. With Mastercard, we launched ‘Nobody in the Dark,’ which set out a plan of action for greater digital financial inclusion. Meanwhile, with Accenture, we’ve been helping people to boost their digital skills through ‘Future Proof’ – providing thousands with the skills they need for work. And with BT, we’ve been working together on ‘Skills for Tomorrow,’ helping to provide digital skills training to 10 million children, families, and businesses across the UK. And we’re continuing to reach and support vulnerable people working with Lloyds Banking Group, Google.org, JP Morgan, Open Reach, Barclays, and others.
2020 was the year that the digital divide soared up the political agenda. We’ve worked closely with Government departments to support their digital inclusion and skills initiatives, whilst gaining considerable support from backbench MPs across the spectrum. This culminated in a debate in December, led by Esther McVey MP and Julie Elliott MP, which explored the extent of the digital divide – and what is needed to fix it.
We can say for certain that 2021 is not going to be without its challenges. Even with the vaccine roll-out, the virus is still likely to be prevalent in the UK for months to come. And the economic ramifications of the last few months are still hurting businesses, making future job losses sadly very likely, and hurting small local charities, we hope they can survive.
But there are still many reasons to be hopeful about 2021. The upcoming Budget – scheduled for March 3rd – offers a fantastic opportunity to help Britain build back better. We think a Great Digital Catch Up should be at the heart of the Chancellor’s plan – providing people with the digital skills they need to get back into the workforce, to connect with loved ones throughout lockdown, and to help their children learn at home whilst schools are closed.
We also need to see a concrete plan from the Government to improve access to devices and data across the UK. In September, we proposed the establishment of a Data Poverty Lab to explore solutions to these problems. We’re hopeful that this will feature in the Chancellor’s Budget, backed up with the funding it needs to ensure all households can get online.
2021 won’t be without its challenges. But we’re hopeful that this year will be better – and that we can make substantial progress in our national efforts to Fix The Digital Divide.