Digital Exclusion (February 2024)

“Thank you for contacting me about digital exclusion and the Westminster Hall debate taking place on 28 February 2024. Sadly, due to prior diary commitments, I am unable to attend but I welcome the increased awareness of this important issue.

Digital skills are vital at all levels, from the basics people need to make the most of online connectivity, to skills needed in every job, to the high-level skills for the growing number of specialist jobs in the economy. Although we live in an increasingly online world, a significant part of the population remains digitally excluded. I welcome the Government’s commitment to helping elderly people in particular acquire basic digital skills, as part of its broader strategy to reduce digital exclusion.

The Government is working to remove barriers and ensure that online services are as inclusive as possible by making public sector websites accessible to as many people as possible. The accessibility regulations ensure that websites and mobile apps are designed to be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Furthermore, assisted digital support services aim to increase digital inclusion for those online users who lack digital confidence, digital skills or access to the internet.

Additionally, to support low-income households the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology has negotiated a range of high-quality, low-cost broadband and mobile social tariffs for households in receipt of Universal Credit and other means tested benefits. Mobile and broadband social tariffs are available in 99 per cent of the UK, from a range of providers including, BT, Virgin Media, Sky and Vodafone from as little as £10 per month.

The introduction of the digital entitlement means that since August 2020, adults with no or low digital skills can undertake new Essential Digital Skills qualifications (EDSQs) up to Level 1 free of charge. EDSQs are a new qualification type, based on new national standards for essential digital skills, which provide adults with the digital skills needed for life and work. 

Lack of connectivity is a root cause of digital exclusion. The Government has committed £5 billion to support the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband to the hardest-to-reach areas of the UK had been allocated. This funding will be used to ensure that hard-to-reach premises will get access to 1,000mbps-capable broadband along with the rest of the UK. It is encouraging that 80 per cent of UK premises now have a gigabit-capable connection - a huge leap forwards from just over one in twenty in January 2019. Furthermore, the Government is working with industry to achieve 85 per cent gigabit-capable coverage by 2025, with the ambition for nationwide broadband coverage by 2030.

More broadly, the involvement of the voluntary and community sector is crucial, and support can be most effective where providers are able to tailor their support to local needs. Public libraries also play a key role in helping to tackle digital exclusion. Around 2,900 public libraries in England provide a trusted network of accessible locations offering free WiFi, access to computers and digital support provided by staff and volunteers.

 

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Sally-Ann Hart MP."