White Paper on Levelling Up – a missed opportunity to close the Digital Divide?
Last week the Government published its long-awaited White Paper on Levelling Up. As Helen Milner, CEO of Good Things Foundation, has written in her initial thoughts on the White Paper, while it has encouraging signs of a commitment to Digital Education and more devolution, it does not go far enough in committing to closing the digital divide.
The levelling up agenda was one which helped the current government win an increased majority at the last election, with a large number of so called “red wall” seats switching to the Conservatives after feeling that they had been ignored by successive governments over many decades. Indeed while inequality between north and south has been growing steadily with the move away from heavy industries to the service sector, levelling up cannot be reduced to a simple geographical equation. Inequality in rural areas, seaside towns and in pockets of deprivation within areas thought of as affluent, is all too common. There is a danger that in focusing on a geographical levelling up, an opportunity to tackle the digital divide, which cuts across all regions and parts of our society, may be missed.
The COVID-19 pandemic, in forcing so many things to move online due to lockdowns and social distancing, accelerated a move to digital that had already been in motion. It threw into sharp focus the digital “haves” and “have nots” in our society, with those without digital access being cut off from education, communication and access to services and shopping. It meant that the term “digital divide” became widely known and spoken about. As we continue to recover from the pandemic, it is vital that this window of opportunity is not lost to make sure that people’s life-chances do not continue to be blighted by a lack of digital connectivity.
Addressing digital inequality involves tackling three key areas: access to devices, access to data/broadband, and basic digital skills. Here at Laptops4Learning, our work focuses on the first of these, getting devices out to those who need them most. Many charities and community organisations are doing vital work on skills, and it is good to see that this is one area also being addressed in the White Paper. Good Things Foundation has done great work in launching the National Databank to tackle connectivity for those in need. There is no doubt that a huge amount of work remains to be done, and we are grateful to Good Things Foundation for constantly holding the Government’s feet to the fire in the area of digital inequality. A nationally coordinated response would be very desirable, but there is much we can all do to help address this issue in the meantime.
Please get in touch with us if you have surplus tech and would like to participate in our programme to get devices out to those blighted by digital inequality.
Sue Gowling 09/02/22