Gordon Brown is right

Our Group CEO, Helen Milner, welcomes the call for a national plan to fix the digital divide from former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Today’s intervention from Gordon Brown and the Alliance for Full Employment is absolutely critical. As today’s data from Ofcom show that 1.5 million households still lack access to the internet at home, it’s clear that we need a robust national plan to fix the digital divide.

Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, we’ve made good progress over the past year. The digital divide is narrowing, more people are getting online, and more people are seeing the benefits of being online. 

It’s not just about internet access and affordable connectivity. All four elements of the digital inclusion pyramid need to be fixed to close the digital divide. 

A pyramid-shaped diagram showing what people need to end data poverty. Firstly, access to devices. Secondly, access to good quality, affordable connectivity. Finally, basic digital skills, all to achieve their goals.

Many of the gains in the past year have been made by communities working together on emergency solutions as a result of the pandemic. Our community partners have gone to immense lengths to help people in their communities to access health support, order food, and keep in touch with their loved ones online. They’ve helped to tackle data poverty, by providing access to data and working with inspiring coalitions like Operation Wifi and emergency offers from connectivity providers like BT, O2 and Vodafone. And they’ve ensured children can learn online whilst parents work from home by distributing devices, like laptops and tablets, through Everyone Connected.

We won’t fix the digital divide without working together. What we still lack is a robust, national plan from the Government for cross sector partners to collaborate to end digital exclusion and build back smarter. Today’s Ofcom figures show that “six in ten of those who don’t use the internet at home say they have asked someone to do something for them online in the past year.” The Government needs to ensure that everyone has the devices, data, and skills they need to get online independently.

"Meaningful digital connectivity and inclusion are now the strong foundations beneath any serious levelling up strategy."

Gordon Brown

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2007-2010)

I completely agree with Gordon Brown’s call for a plan to “reboot Britain” and place digital inclusion at the heart of our educational, economic and jobs recovery. I’m optimistic that such a plan can (at least) halve the digital divide (amongst adults) within three years, ensuring 4.5 million people are brought online by the end of this Parliament. In our Digital Blueprint, we highlighted how a great digital catch up could do just that by investing £130 million in digital inclusion – or just 2% of our nation’s overall broadband budget.

Gordon Brown rightfully says that “meaningful digital connectivity and inclusion are now the strong foundations beneath any serious levelling up strategy.” If the Government is serious about kickstarting a recovery that works for all, they must act now – by introducing a robust, national plan, by inspiring businesses, charities and Government departments to work together, by coordination and tenacity, and fixing the digital divide.

As Gordon Brown told the BBC: “We’ve got to heal this digital divide. And I think the Government’s got to act pretty quickly.”

Helen Milner

Helen Milner OBE

Group Chief Executive

Helen Milner OBE is the Group Chief Executive of Good Things Foundation. Founded as a staff-led mutual charity in the UK in 2011, Helen led the establishment of a subsidiary charity, opening an office in Sydney in August 2017, and running the Be Connected Network for the Australian Government.

Helen has over 30 years experience of working in and leading organisations creating and delivering education over and about the internet. She was awarded an OBE for services to digital inclusion in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours List. In 2017, she won the title of Digital Leader of the Year (UK) and was named by Computer Weekly as the 14th most influential person in UK IT in 2020.

Featured image: Former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, speaking in 2009. Picture: Frantzesco Kangaris / newsteam.co.uk. Crown Copyright.