Digital inclusion as a basic human right

Andy Burnham writes about the work he is doing as Mayor to increase digital inclusion within Greater Manchester and the risks that we face nationally if the digital divide is not fixed.

In the future, when we look back on this pandemic, we will remember the experience of moving our lives online.

For many of us, digital technology has helped us cope with Covid-19 a little better. For others, however, the world’s move in a digital direction has meant increased social isolation.

Shifting everyday life online has meant those who lack the tools and skills needed to get online have been cut off and shut out. That’s why closing the digital divide needs to become a much higher priority both locally and nationally. By not making it so, we risk seeing an even more divided society emerge on the other side of this pandemic, with people shut out of the conversation and unable to access the support and services they need.

The time has come where we need to see digital connectivity as a basic human right. In Greater Manchester, we have launched our digital inclusion ambition: to become one of the first city-regions in the world to equip all under-25s, over-75s and disabled people with the skills, connectivity, and technology to get online.

Good Things Foundation’s vision is for a world where everyone benefits from digital. This is a vision we are fully behind in Greater Manchester. Our new digital inclusion ambitions reinforce plans in the Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint to put people at the heart of everything we do.

It is clear that the key to tackling the digital divide is in collaboration. We need all relevant parties to work together to develop a solution.

The issue of digital exclusion is a complex one and one we need to fully understand from the perspective of those experiencing it first-hand. This will allow us to put in place meaningful solutions to tackle the issue head on.

It is clear that the key to tackling the digital divide is in collaboration. With so many factors at play, from lack of basic digital skills through to lack of connectivity or access to a digital device, we need all relevant parties to work together to develop a solution.

To begin this work in Greater Manchester, last month, we established a Digital Inclusion Action Network, bringing together our residents and representatives from industry, local authorities, education, voluntary and charitable organisations (including Good Things Foundation). We have asked them to lead targeted action to combat digital exclusion and fix the digital divide across Greater Manchester. The new Digital Action Network and the existing Greater Manchester Digital Inclusion Taskforce will be the driving force behind this new ambition.

The Digital Inclusion Action Network was set up to build on the model that we have used in Greater Manchester to tackle homelessness. 

Our Homelessness Action Network brings together a huge number of players from all the different sectors across Greater Manchester. Replicating this tried-and-tested approach in the digital world will allow us to build a network of big players in the industry who are proud to come with us on this this journey. 

Greater Manchester is the fastest-growing digital and tech hub in Europe and is increasingly seen as the UK’s leading digital city-region. We know that, if we are to achieve our ambitions to become a world-leading digital city region, we must make real progress in fixing our digital divide. We cannot truly be a digital leader if we aren’t bringing our residents with us on this digital journey. 

Andy Burnham

Mayor of Greater Manchester

Andy Burnham was elected Mayor of Greater Manchester in May 2017, and was re-elected for a second term in May 2021.

Prior to being Mayor, Andy was MP for Leigh from 2001. In Government, Andy has held Ministerial positions at the Home Office, Department of Health and the Treasury. In 2008 he became Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, before returning to Health as Secretary of State in 2009. In opposition, Andy has served as Shadow Education Secretary, Shadow Health Secretary and Shadow Home Secretary.

Andy lives in Leigh, Greater Manchester, with his wife and three children. He is a keen supporter of Everton FC.