City livery company webinar calls for action to end the UK’s embarrassing digital poverty

During a City of London webinar that took place last week, entitled, “How do we end digital poverty?“. Helen Milner OBE, CEO of the Good Things Foundation, said: “Digital Poverty is embarrassing and not OK. Fixing it will boost the economy, improve health and well-being and level up opportunity.”

The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT) attracted an audience of 400 people to this online event making it one of the largest events, physical or virtual, ever organised by the WCIT. Panel

members, who were some of the UK’s leaders in finding solutions to Digital Poverty, emphasised that business had major role to play in the ending of Digital Poverty and it was in their interest to bring this about.

Sir Kenneth Olisa, the Lord Lieutenant of Greater London and a Past Master of the WCIT, started the webinar saying, “Digital Poverty is soluble if we can harness Britain’s conscience, its sense of community and its willingness to help strangers. This willingness was brilliantly illustrated by the public’s support for Sir Tom’s run-away fundraising.“

Phil Smith CBE, Co-Chair of the Digital Skills Partnership and former UK Chair and CEO of Cisco UK & Ireland, appealed to the audience, ”We have to solve this. Everyone here tonight should find a way to become involved, be it locally, regionally or nationally, wherever you have the capacity to make a difference. What

is needed is not new initiatives but making the existing ones sustainable.”

Some shocking figures were revealed about the digital divide. There are around 7 million households with no access to the internet and 1.8 million children don’t have access to an internet device. Like many other problems in Britain there is a north/south divide with more than half the population of the North East living in digital deprivation compared to only a third of the population in London and the South East.

Like so many other things, Covid-19 has amplified inequalities. Remote working and lockdown have meant even more services being exclusively available online exacerbating the problems faced by the Digitally Deprived. School classes are online but not every pupil has a computer, nor every household access to the Internet. Although it is possible for claimants of Universal Credit who don’t have internet access to apply over the phone,job applications have to be submitted largely online but too many people have no means of access. Moreover, many people lack the skills required to utilise online information, with lockdown making any potential help more distant than ever.

The speakers were clear that there are ways to solve this problem. Perhaps surprisingly the easiest part is the provision of the equipment but more difficult is the provision of connectivity to the internet. The meeting called for the creation of the equivalent of the freephone system for the internet, where certain channels would not consume customers’ data allowances. There were also calls for connectivity to be treated as a utility.

WCIT Charity continues to help the homeless and vulnerable gain digital skills

One of the many programmes the WCIT Charity has been supporting is the funding of digital skills training (i-Reach) to support homeless people or those at risk of homelessness to become digitally literate. For the past 6 years, the WCIT Charity has been a strategic partner of Thames Reach, a London based charity that works directly with homeless people on the streets and in hostels. Thames Reach also works hard to stop vulnerable people from becoming homeless in the first place. Through their employment academy in Peckham, SE London, Thames Reach provides services that include digital education, to help service users learn basic skills such as internet navigation and email, to enabled them to register for benefits and gain many of the advantages of social media for reconnecting with loved-ones.

The WCIT Charity has made grants of over £200k towards this incredible initiative and are very proud to have helped a great number of people reclaim their lives from the Street.

RP’s Story

After buying his first smartphone, Thames Reach resident RP became anxious as his realised he didn’t have the digital skills to set it up or use it. He remembered seeing a leaflet for an introductory computer course in his hostel and thought it might help him learn how to do it himself.

During his first I-reach session, he learned how to set up his phone, add in contacts, set up an email account and keep his information safe. He was also overjoyed to find that he could upload a photo of lavender fields as a ‘wallpaper’ on his phone as it reminded him strongly of his childhood in Italy. It was his first step into a wider digital world.

As well as learning how to manage his phone, RP has also developed more confidence and independence. He says, “I can now set reminders for my appointments on my phone so I don’t have to rely on my support worker so much.” His wellbeing has improved and he is now looking forward to trying something different. He says, “I love the outdoors and I really want to do some volunteer gardening soon, maybe in the local parks such like Battersea Park.”

The WCIT Charity are very proud to be supporting this very important programme and would welcome donations to help continue our excellent work. To make a donation, please go here.