Good Things Foundation: Reflections on 2020

21 Dec 2020 |Written by Adam Micklethwaite


It’s been a challenging year for everyone, and at Good Things Foundation our mission to help everyone benefit from the digital world has never been more important.

As we approach Christmas, we’ve been reflecting on what has changed in 2020, and what we have learned.

Digital social inclusion has never been more important.

The digital divide in the UK has been laid bare by Covid-19. Instantly, having internet access, data, and digital confidence and skills became an essential for life, and in most cases for work. Data poverty was exposed as a damaging form of digital and social inequality. The excellent Lloyds Banking Group Consumer Digital Index showed in 2020 that 9 million people cannot use the internet without help, and 13.6 million lack essential digital skills for work. ONS highlighted the 7 million households without access to the internet.

These are shocking figures, and in the autumn Good Things Foundation campaigned for a Great Digital Catch Up as part of our national #FixTheDigitalDivide campaign.

Yet the most acute needs of 2020 have been in public health and safeguarding jobs. Investment will continue to flow - rightly - to meet these critical demands, as the economic recovery we hope for begins.

A digital divide, particularly one so closely linked to economic and social inequality, cannot be sustained in the post-Covid world. But digital inclusion needs to be seen as an essential part of the most pressing public policy agendas, not as a bolt on. Digital social inclusion - embedding digital access and skills into programmes that act on health, and on employment; driving social and economic opportunity in a digital world - will be the way we close the digital divide.

Community has a crucial role to play in recovery, and in closing the digital divide.

The community sector in the UK has taken a battering, like other sectors. Despite this, our community partners have worked miracles in the face of huge pressure. Our Covid-19 response report showed some of the ways they responded during the first national lockdown, pivoting to new models of delivery and where possible, maintaining digital social inclusion. Their drive, creativity and resilience have shone through, and it continues to be an honour to work with so many inspiring community champions.

The idea of community has been central to our human response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Across the country - and across the world - people have responded to the crisis by drawing on their reserves of empathy and compassion to help others. Covid-19 has swept away many of our assumptions about the world, but our faith in community has grown stronger.

Without the community sector, many of those facing the greatest challenges would not have been supported through the chaos and turbulence of 2020. If we are to make further progress on economic recovery, levelling up, and building opportunity, the community sector will need to play a pivotal role, as recognised by Danny Kruger MP in his report to the Prime Minister; and recognising the link between digital exclusion and social inequality, the ability of community organisations to reach and work with the most vulnerable will be fundamental to closing the digital divide.

Closing the digital divide will happen through partnership.

At Good Things Foundation we believe in the power of digital to help people have better lives, and that we will close the digital divide. In the years ahead, more than ever, this will be through partnership. All sectors will face pressure as the economic impact of Covid-19 works through, and organisations who share our mission to end digital exclusion will need to think harder and dig deeper to contribute.

But there is will to make this happen. We have seen some shining examples of commitment to the cause, such as the pledge from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to make GM a 100% digitally enabled city region; the commitment from the West Midlands Combined Authority to a Great Digital Catch Up; and the generous contribution of many corporate partners to DevicesDotNow during the first lockdown. Digital inclusion is ‘on the agenda’ in many areas of public policy - such as the continuing reform of the UK justice system; the links between digital and financial inclusion; and the use of digital tools in health and care - with a great number of articulate and passionate voices asking the right questions.

We believe there is recognition that the digital divide will not stand, and enough voices in positions of power and influence to drive positive change. This message came through strongly at the recent cross-party Backbench Business Committee debate on digital infrastructure, connectivity and inclusivity. We need to harness this will, with a realism about the challenges we face in the coming years, to forge the partnerships that will end digital exclusion. Driving social and economic opportunity in a digital world needs to be the cornerstone of our response. Together, we can make this happen.