Our message for Government at the Digital Inclusion All Party Parliamentary Group – We need leadership, now

Dr Emma Stone calls on Government for leadership, now, as the All Party Parliamentary Group discusses the pathways to digital inclusion.

Today, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Digital Inclusion meets – co-chaired by Matt Warman MP (Con) and Julie Elliott MP (Lab) – also joined today by Minister Saqib Bhatti. On the agenda – pathways to inclusion. 

As the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity, we’ll be using our voice to continue our call to the current government, and all political parties, to show sustained, joined-up leadership – and set a strategic and practical pathway to digital inclusion for the country. We’d love to see more action from the current government, building on last year’s excellent report on digital exclusion from the cross-party House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee. We also want to see all political parties prioritising digital inclusion – recognising that even if they win without doing so, they won’t be able to lead and govern effectively without a clear pathway to digital inclusion for all – a plan of action serving communities across the country, with commitments across digital skills and confidence, devices and data connectivity. 

For this government and any future government – there is expertise, energy and enthusiasm for action. At Good Things, we see this above all in the local organisations – community centres, libraries, refuges, skills providers and more – in the National Digital Inclusion Network, in our strategic partners and supporters. We see it in the leadership and action plans of combined and local authorities, devolved governments, charities, housing associations, and businesses.


A national pathway to inclusion needs to address five key areas:

1. Leadership. Government collaborating with businesses, civil society, the public sector to fix the digital divide. This includes devolved governments at all levels – nations, regions, combined and local authorities. A growing number of elected Mayors are taking this up in English regions; there is policy leadership in Wales and Scotland; and leading figures in the voluntary sector, public sector, business, and across all political parties are recognising how much this matters to people’s lives, society and economy – as contributors to our Digital Futures for Good series articulate so powerfully


2. Skills. Ensuring that all adults can get free help with basic digital skills in an AI age – so they can ‘communicate, connect and engage with opportunities – safely and with confidence’ (Minimum Digital Living Standard, as defined by members of the public).

  • Essential Digital Skills entitlement has been in place since August 2020 – a statutory entitlement to funded study for adults with low digital skills. DfE’s own statistics show that less than 18,000 people in one year (2022/23) may have used it (17,510 started courses in 2022/23, DfE). This is failing as a pathway to digital inclusion for too many digitally excluded adults. 8.5m adults need support with the most basic digital skills. Formal education pathways and Adult Education Budget procurement frameworks do not reflect lived realities or the value of hyperlocal hubs and digital champions. Our three UK Community Renewal Fund pilots with West Midlands, North East, and Greater Manchester Combined Authorities demonstrated the value of informal, community-based learning as a pathway for inclusion. The pilots also showed the importance of a holistic offer: skills alongside data connectivity and devices.
  • AI / Gen AI has shifted the goalposts for digital inclusion and the skills and understanding we need for a level playing field. Good Things has just released our first learning content for people with low digital skills on AI. Very much a first step – we’re learning like everyone else – but we didn’t want to wait and let people already locked out of benefiting from digital to fall even further behind.
  • DWP research with nearly 8,000 DWP service users and 3,000 PIP customers shows deep divides in access and skills among those who need public services for vital support, safety nets and opportunities. 16% of DWP customers are ‘currently offline’ (9% have never used the internet; 7% no longer use it). Among PIP customers, 40% don’t feel confident to use online services. No, low and lapsed internet use is higher among people with disabilities, health conditions, and no qualifications. Between 30-34% want to learn digital skills; 18% still don’t.
  • Minimum Digital Living Standards research, including an in-person survey of 1,500 families, takes a holistic and household approach, based on what members of the public feel is needed today. 45% of households with children don’t meet the benchmark, with many falling short on practical skills and on critical skills for both adults and children, as well as digital access – echoing insights from Nominet Digital Youth Index, Ofcom, and Lloyds UK Consumer Digital Index.


3. Devices. Government needs to lead by example in reusing tech for good. E-waste is the fastest growing wastestream on the planet. The National Device Bank is a cost-free win-win for government, environment, and fixing the digital divide. This is a no-brainer for this or any future government. One quarter of councils in London have donated devices. Liverpool City Region has been the first combined authority to donate. But we need more, and faster. We have just had to close early the latest round of applications to the National Device Bank due to the huge demand from community organisations and hubs in the Network. We received over 300 applications in a week. We’ve had to disappoint lots of hubs by closing the opportunity early. The first 270 applications requested over 10,000 devices in total. We urgently need Government to lead the way on reuse for good. 

4. Data connectivity. The Minimum Digital Living Standards research is unequivocal. Digital access is essential for family life. It is also essential for anyone who relies on public services, on health services, on other people. We need to evolve innovations like Social Tariffs, Zero-Rating, the National Databank – which provides free mobile data donated by O2, Vodafone, and Three UK through local databanks in the National Digital Inclusion Network. We have to make sure every adult, every family, can afford to get online; and provide free access for those most excluded and in deep poverty. Social tariffs are one of solutions to data poverty but they aren’t affordable for everyone. With savings passed on to consumers (approx. £36 per year), cutting VAT to 0% would ensure many more families are able to stay connected.

5. Joining up. A big part of this is about promoting and signposting to support out there;  considerate signposting from frontline services, including Jobcentre Plus, NHS, local authorities, the voluntary sector, and trusted businesses. A core part of Good Things offer is the support we make available for and through the National Digital Inclusion Network – reaching into communities at national scale with resources like free mobile data from the National Databank. Many hubs in the Network are small, responsive to local needs, resourceful, and they need resourcing and recognition. Joining up is also about recognising and harnessing the expertise, energy and enthusiasm evident across sectors, and at all levels. I see considerable synergy and expertise across lots of organisations on digital inclusion – truly a gift to the current – or any future – government.

If we get this right – the benefits for inclusion, fairness, opportunity, growth, families and future generations are huge. Our economic impact report with the Cebr, shows there is a significant economic benefit to investing in digital inclusion and skills, including efficiency savings of £1.4 billion for Government, and an estimated £2.7 billion generated for corporations through filling vacancies requiring basic digital skills. £13.7bn benefit to the economy from investing in community based basic digital skills support. 

We need to get this right, and we can’t put this off any longer. At today’s Digital Inclusion APPG, that’s the message I’ll be sharing. Work with us – with all of us – and let’s fix the digital divide.