Members of the community, the voluntary sector – and our own tireless Digital & Customer Services teams – have worked tirelessly over the past 18 months on helping people who don’t have a digital device or connectivity.
A REAL silver lining of COVID is that the UK has made five years’ worth of progress in one year in terms of its digital engagement: a further 1.5 million more people are now online, increasing the percentage of people online from 92 pe cent in 2020 to 95 per cent in 2021.
But: those who are not engaging effectively with the digital world are being left behind – and this is leading to an increasing digital divide and giving rise to inequalities in access to opportunities, exacerbating digital poverty.
In 2021, there remains 2.6 million people completely offline, 39 per cent of whom are under the age of 60: dispelling the idea that all offline people are older, with 11.9 million adults still lacking essential digital skills.
The pandemic has exposed systemic weaknesses in digital infrastructure, digital skills, digital poverty for all age groups – and further isolated those with existing vulnerabilities, such as mental and physical disabilities, and those socially excluded and already in financial poverty.
Taking the lead in Brum
Birmingham has seen an improving position over recent years: and has now moved to 91.4 pe cent (2019) from 88.6 per cent (2018) being digital included.
Digital & Customer Services has taken the lead in bringing together council teams, and the voluntary and commercial sector, to tackle this – and has facilitated the co-production a city-wide Digital Inclusion Strategy and Action Plan, following workshops and consultations with city partners and stakeholders.
This two-year city Digital Inclusion Strategy – set to be launched on 30 November – outlines how we can join up services, challenge inequalities, and make the most of all the skills and opportunities we already have in our city. Some examples include:
- Supporting the establishment of the West Midlands Coalition for Digital Inclusion – to share good practice and connect practitioners together
- Securing £0.5million for a Computer Loan scheme as part of the PURE2 project to provide connectivity and devices for vulnerable citizens
- Supporting the Digital Education Partnership to deliver more than 1,000 devices to the vulnerable school children who were ineligible for the Department for Education IT scheme
- Distributing, FREE, 647 council desktop computers to charities and community organisations as part of our ‘Computers for Good causes’ initiative
And, it is this latter initiative that is starting to have a far-reaching effect across Birmingham: with 85 charities and community groups within Birmingham and the wider West Midlands signed up for support.
Organisations signed up include: refugee support and homelessness groups, diaspora community support (for example, helping the Angolan community), religious community organisations (for example, mosques, church groups and Sikh gurdwaras), older people’s support and inclusion groups (such as Age UK), children’s support (E.g. Barnardo’s), mental health organisations, women’s refuge and domestic abuse support, plus disability support organisations: with 51 of these organisations collecting desktops, laptops, screens, keyboards and mice to-date!
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