Experts call for action to be taken to tackle the UK’s digital divide

The University of Manchester has released a major new publication in which leading academics call for urgent actions to be taken to tackle the increasing digital divide in the UK.

Despite many businesses and services now increasingly moving their activities online, there are still 9 million adults in the UK who can’t use the internet without help - and there is a stark North/South divide, with 53% of people in the North East and 41% in the North West rarely or never using the internet compared to 35% in the South East.

On Digital Inequalities aims to identify the impacts of this digital divide on healthcare, education, employment, the economy and many other areas – as well as suggesting ways to address it.

The contributors to the publication include Managing Director of The Productivity Institute Professor Bart van Ark, Head of the Division of Population Health Professor Arpana Verma, Director of the NIHR Older People and Frailty Policy Research Unit Professor Chris Todd, Director of Teaching and Learning (Operations) in the Manchester Institute of Education Dr Stephen Rayner, and many more leading experts from the University and elsewhere.

As well as highlighting where there is an evidence gap, the experts identify policy measures which might address the digital divide, and suggest what key indicators of success might look like. The publication calls for a number of actions to be taken, including:

- Supply free-to-use digital devices and internet access to those in need
- Increase funding for support programmes to get people online
- Emulate the approach to digital skills development of countries such as Singapore and Finland
- Ensure vital services are still delivered by telephone as well as online
- Increase collaboration between businesses, government and education providers
- Support and enable schools to deliver ‘blended learning’
- Support and protect remote workers

"Just as we’ve heard the Prime Minister’s roadmap for coming out of lockdown, we now need a roadmap for fixing the digital divide as a social and economic priority," said Helen Milner OBE, Group Chief Executive of Good Things Foundation, who supplies the foreword in the publication. "No longer should people have to make the choice between data and food – we know from our community partners that some people have had to make this choice in the last year."

It’s time for the UK to have a truly inclusive digital strategy - we need an ambition for a levelled-up 100% digitally-inclusive nation, and sustainable solutions to data poverty.
Helen Milner OBE

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