Digital inclusion - online access for everyone

A new digital inclusion team at the city council will ensure Birmingham’s most vulnerable and excluded citizens will have better access to online services.

This is one of the recommendations in a report to cabinet setting out a city-wide digital inclusion strategy.

Birmingham City Council has brought together 40 different organisations to ensure people have access to equipment, network connectivity and skills for improving their quality of life, developing their careers and saving money.

While statistics show the inclusion rate in Birmingham is increasing, this only captures basic internet use and does not take account of affordability of data, digital skills or regular access.

Councillor Brigid Jones, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: 

“Digital inclusion isn’t just about getting the latest smartphone. It is about ensuring people are connected and citizens, especially the most vulnerable, have access to online services.
“There was already a digital divide before the pandemic hit, but Covid-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities, meaning those who were already disadvantaged have become even more excluded. Digital exclusion speaks to some of the most profound inequalities in our society and now is the time to take collective action as a city to tackle the challenge.
“To tackle this we must work as a city – public, private, and voluntary sectors to ensure everyone has the confidence, capacity and skills to access online information and live their lives to their full potential.
“While the strategy will help more people gain the benefits of digital inclusion, we do recognise that not every citizen will have a preference for digital. As part of our customer service strategy, we will continue to support citizens to access services using alternative channels until they are ready to adopt digital opportunities.”  

The digital strategy aims to ensure that:

  • Every citizen has easy access to an internet enabled device such as a computer, laptop, or  smartphone, ideally within their own household.
  • There are city‐wide, locality-based and online educational sessions, providing tuition to enable people to develop their digital skills, increasing their confidence, motivation and well‐being.
  • There is targeted intervention and effective signposting to facilitate end-to-end learning opportunities for all citizens to ensure they can maximise and build on their skills, removing the barriers for those that are most vulnerable or excluded.
  • Citizens develop a digital by choice preference,  creating simple digital solutions to enable citizens to access council services using their device of choice and at a time of their choosing.
  • Digital and data poverty is minimized so that digital inequality no longer persists, and everyone has an equal opportunity to access Council services and activities online.
  • We work with city employers to highlight the importance of digital skills and inclusion and their role in supporting citizens, communities and their workforce

The city council is already helping citizens access digital devices, with around 1,000 made available to young vulnerable school children by working jointly with the Digital Education Partnership, with devices and funding being provided by the city council and other organisations.

A further 2,200 council devices have been identified and are expected to be freed up within the next few months, as the city council refreshes its own digital kit, which we will make available to citizens and communities working through our charities and voluntary sector groups.

Up to 5,000 devices should be recycled over the next two years.

The report goes to cabinet committee on 7 September.

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