Is leaping the digital divide getting any easier?

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Irene Warner-Mackintosh says nearly 20% of benefits claimants still have low digital skills but 90% of jobs demand digital literacy

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26th February 2019 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

January is – as always - a time for reflection, for those involved in digital participation one question we may want to consider is as we approach the third decade of the 21st century is whether digital exclusion still an issue we need to address?

We know every 18 minutes in Scotland a household becomes homeless (equivalent to 38 children becoming homeless every day), that one in five people are living in poverty, and that only half of disabled people of working age are in work compared to 80% of non-disabled people of working age.

These issues prove there’s still very much for us to do to tackle exclusion. And digital exclusion sits alongside every one of these issues; it brings an added complexity to the problems people face.

Irene Warner-Mackintosh

Irene Warner-Mackintosh

It’s not enough to just be able to access a device, but we have to be able to use it meaningfully

Our main welfare system, for example, hinges on those who need it most being able to input complex personal data into an online platform. However, 18% of the UK adults claiming benefits (1.2 million people) have low or no digital capability at all and there is limited or no support at point of access.

Almost all jobs (90%) require essential digital skills – but unemployed people are almost three times as likely to have limited digital experience. People with a disability are four times more likely to be offline. These statistics highlight the fact that digital exclusion remains a social justice issue. Consequently, it’s vital that digital inclusion is an integral part of our person centred-approach, and that essential digital skills are part of our individual support plans.

So what do we need to do?

We must work to support each other in developing digital understanding: it’s not enough to just be able to access a device, but we have to be able to use it meaningfully, ensuring that we can access what we need to help us in life, education and work.

We need to skill up, and develop our own digital skills to allow us to be useful digital champions. The digital champion model is a proven way of supporting digital inclusion – it’s local and community focused, using trusted intermediaries, in organisations familiar with providing one-to-one support to help individuals develop essential digital skills.

We need to take digital inclusion seriously- there’s no-one coming along to help. It’s up to us and it should be addressed as a wider approach to tackling social exclusion.

There’s tremendous hope out there. The terrific 5Rights project by Young Scot aims to ensure that the rights and protections afforded to young people in the offline world are replicated online, including the right to digital literacy. Streetwork Scotland is developing an ambitious and far reaching digital inclusion project to support individuals experiencing homelessness. LEAD Scotland has the fantastic Digital Progression Project to help disabled people and carers develop digital confidence and understanding.

There is a myriad of incredible, inspiring work happening across the sector. But we all definitely need to do more; to address digital exclusion, we must be more digitally inclusive. So, please, get involved.

Irene Warner-Mackintosh is director with Mhor Collective, and a PhD student with The University of the West of Scotland as part of One Digital.