I have written to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to highlight the urgent need to bring forward the UKs Digital Strategy, which accounts for the impact of the Digital Divide and exclusion. Read below:
The Digital Divide and the UKs Digital Strategy
The UKs Digital Strategy was introduced in March 2017, shortly after DCMS adopted Digital in its name to signify the Governments emphasis on digital affairs. These steps acknowledged of the critical role technology and connectivity play in our day-to-day lives and economy.
Over the past year the scale of digital exclusion has been laid bare. Around one-in-five people in the UK lacked basic digital skills prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, these people have felt the shift to remote working, learning, and socialising more difficult than others.
Throughout the pandemic far more people have experienced social isolation and loneliness, an issue that was exacerbated for those without access to digital equipment. This is particularly an issue for over 65s, almost four million of whom have never used the internet.
As schools closed in the Autumn, there were 7,000 children and young people in Sheffield without access to a computer, 4,500 of those needed support with connectivity. Sheffield City Council stepped up and worked with local businesses and charities to fund devices and connections.
However, many children and young people still had to wait a long time for support. These were the same children who had already been excluded from much of the online learning earlier in the year. The impact on their education has been profound and is largely attributable to their digital exclusion.
It is highly likely that as we reopen our economy, many places of work, learning and leisure will move to a hybrid or fully remote provision. Research has found that fifth of the population have no access or digital skills. They cannot be excluded from engaging with leisure activities, education or employment as society becomes more digitally reliant and integrated.
The dramatic transformation to the digital transformation over the past year has been stark. In 2020 the Microsoft CEO remarked that he saw two years of digital transformation in two months. Given the scale of the task ahead to ensure the UK is ready for a fast changing and increasingly digital enabled economy, I was pleased when a renewed Digital Strategy was announced in June last year. However, almost a year later the strategy has still not been brought forward.
This situation demands urgent leadership, with digital inclusion at the heart of the strategy and the ‘levelling up’ agenda. It should serve as a valuable opportunity to boost local digital uptake and connectivity, improving people’s lives and potential. I hope that the strategy can be brought forward as early as possible and would welcome the opportunity to speak with you further about this important issue.
Gill Furniss MP
Member of Parliament for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough