Politicians discuss digital inclusion at TechUK

The number of adults aged 16-24 in England without basic digital skills is double the number in Germany and triple the number in France, according to cross-sector digital skills charity Go ON UK 

The charity said that one in five UK adults don’t have the basic digital skills they need to benefit from the digital world, leaving them unable to do simple tasks like shopping safely online.

Go ON UK chief executive Rachel Neaman asked the three main political parties how they were treating the topic of digital inclusion at TechUK. Here’s what they had to say:

Ed Vaizey, Conservative, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy said: “We have published a digital inclusion strategy in the middle of last year. And there is a bespoke digital inclusion exercise underway. But I certainly think it’s an issue. What I’d challenge those who talk about digital inclusion is about the numbers – who is digitally excluded? What do you mean by that? And also the practical examples of what needs to be done. Who are we targeting? And what do we want them to achieve? Because it’s about access to benefits, it’s about access to critical government services and I think we should be clear on what those skills are that are needed to anticipate that digital agenda.”

Chi Onwurah, Labour Shadow Cabinet Office minister said: “Digital inclusion is at the heart of what we are doing in terms of digital government but also more broadly. I can’t make spending commitments now, but the independent Digital Government Review recommended that the next Labour government accept the recommendations of the Tinder Foundation report which had a well costed estimate for both the benefits and the costs of getting everybody online. We are looking at that very closely and we will have a digital inclusion strategy. It is important to look at the benefits – the amount that it releases both in terms of reducing the cost of government but more broadly in having citizens that can innovate themselves because they’re empowered to do that.”

Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, said: “Inclusion does have to be at the core of what we’re trying to do. My own view is that the financial returns from doing it is very, very likely to massively exceed the cost of doing it, because of other things you can stop doing. So I think we definitely have to look at it. Exactly what the limit is and where you get to, is quite hard. There will be some people who just really don’t want to – you have to make sure there are alternatives.

“I think part of it for some people is not to sell it as ‘We’ll teach you to use a computer’, but, ‘We’ll teach you to do things you want to do anyway. We won’t have to tell you about everything else.’ If all you know is ‘Press here and do this’, that may be the way to get through to a particular set of people, and then over time, generations will change.”

Related reading