How will the new UK Government Digital Inclusion Strategy help tackle poverty in Wales?
This month, the UK Government published its updated Digital Inclusion Strategy. Dave Brown, Director of Strategic Development and Performance at the Wales Co-operative Centre, asks what this might mean for Wales.
The UK Government Digital Inclusion Strategy describes succinctly the scale of the digital exclusion issue as it affects the whole of the UK.
“Today, the web has 2.4 billion users worldwide. To put this incredible speed of adoption in some context, radio took 38 years to reach 50 million users, television took 13 years, web took 4 years and Facebook took just 10 months. In 2013, 89% of young people now use a smartphone or tablet to go online, up from 43% in 2010.
The web has transformed almost every aspect of public, private and work life. It has underpinned our new economy; from changing the way every workplace communicates to creating entire new industries. It is reshaping government through improved public services and improving transparency through open data.
And it has improved people’s lives, whether through cutting household bills, finding a job or maintaining contact with distant friends and relatives. For business and voluntary organisations, going online can provide ways to reach more customers and reduce operating costs. The internet also provides broader benefits, by helping to address wider social and economic issues like reducing isolation and improving health.”
So what is to be done about the half million or so people in Wales who are left behind: those that lack the skills, confidence, motivation or opportunity to get online? There is little in the UK Government document that relates to our specific Welsh context. What we have got in Wales is a proud history of putting our money where our mouth is, when it comes to funding digital inclusion support. The Welsh Government’s Communities 2.0 programme is run by the Wales Co-operative Centre, and has had a huge impact on the lives of those most excluded and most affected by poverty.
As Wales moves on from Communities 2.0, to the next phase of digital inclusion support, we need to build on the strong foundations of partnership laid down by Communities 2.0 initiatives. Yes, practical digital inclusion activities need to be integrated into the mainstream. But for this to be effective it needs support, coordination and leadership. Nothing like the revolution in information and communication described in the UK Government document has ever happened before. As Wales, as a nation, responds to this challenge, it seems right to give the issue the particular attention that only a dedicated strategic project can bring.