Everybody who wants to be online should be able to get online. It’s past time that Wales made this a reality, argues Prof. Hamish Laing.
Although the internet has been with us for 30 years, the growth of daily online activity in recent years has been dramatic.
However, there are still deep digital divides and inequalities in Wales, which have been exacerbated further by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Current figures show that there are still 10% of people who are not online or using the internet regularly.
The proportion is much higher in those who are older, on lower incomes, have long-term health issues or are unskilled.
Although this figure has come down considerably in the last decade, it has remained stubbornly unchanged in the last two years and we have reached a plateau where it is difficult to make further progress without concerted action.
Digital Inclusion Alliance Wales (DIAW) is a multi-sector group of organisations who are committed to taking joint action to significantly advance the digital inclusion agenda in Wales.
The purpose of the Alliance is to bring together people from across the public, private, third and academic sectors to co-ordinate and promote digital inclusion activity across Wales under one national banner.
“Digital Inclusion – access, skills and confidence – is now being recognised as a social determinant of health.”
We are committed to raising the profile of digital inclusion high on the agenda of all public facing organisations because we believe that it must be everybody’s business if we are to be a truly digitally inclusive nation.
The Alliance wants to see an end to digital exclusion in Wales.
We recognise that it is unrealistic to expect 100% of our citizens to be online – some people will choose not to engage with digital technology and the internet for a range of reasons.
Our ambition is that Wales is a place where everyone who wants or needs to can confidently access the internet and digital technology – including those with additional access needs.
We think that Wales can lead the way on this and have recently published our Agenda for digital inclusion, ‘From Inclusion to Resilience’, which sets out the approaches that are needed to reduce digital exclusion to less than 10% and ensure that Wales is a digitally included nation.
Embedding digital inclusion across all sectors
We believe there must be a concerted effort by all sectors across Wales if we are to be successful in beating digital exclusion.
The Alliance will work with key partners to ensure that digital inclusion is a priority across the public, private and third sectors, and collaborate with departments across the Welsh Government to position digital inclusion as a cross-cutting priority for all areas.
This includes ensuring it is a key part of anti-poverty initiatives and national well-being measures. We want to work collaboratively to produce a clear roadmap for ending digital exclusion in Wales.
Delivering digital inclusion in health and social care
We must avoid creating a digital “Inverse Care Law” in Wales – leaving behind those who could benefit most from new digital models of health and care.
Digital Inclusion – access, skills and confidence – is now being recognised as a social determinant of health and if implemented thoughtfully, digital approaches can help close the health inequality gap.
We believe equal access to health and care services can be created by addressing gaps in connectivity at home. We also want to ensure that NHS and social care applications, websites and products are accessible, inclusive and user-centred.
“These might include solutions that encourage a culture of sharing and solidarity (for example, when people can donate unused data to others who cannot afford it).”
In addition, digital support should be provided to people who have difficulties accessing health and care information or services online.
And we must ensure that each person in the Welsh health and social care workforce is given the necessary training to develop the digital skills needed to participate safely and effectively in the post-COVID digital economy.
Addressing data poverty as a key issue
Data poverty has been made even more visible through the COVID-19 pandemic as many households have struggled to engage fully in the online world due to the cost of data and devices.
We would like to see a joined-up approach across sectors that takes steps to promote the development of sustainable and co-produced solutions to data poverty.
These might include solutions that encourage a culture of sharing and solidarity (for example, when people can donate unused data to others who cannot afford it) and the extension of public WiFi across Wales.
We want to see this approach extended to all anti-poverty policies and initiatives, which should also be expected to recognise and address data poverty.
Prioritising digital skills in the post-COVID economy
In Wales, digital skills in the workforce will be essential to economic recovery.
Working collaboratively with the Welsh Government and wider sectors, the Alliance will strive to ensure that the digital skills agenda is targeted at those people and places most likely to lack basic digital skills.
“The voice of people who have lived experience of digital exclusion must be heard when designing, developing and evaluating policies.”
Any intervention must reach unemployed people as well as those in work who need to upskill or retrain to keep pace with change.
Setting a new minimum digital living standard
Co-design and co-production are fundamental to all our proposals. The voice of people who have lived experience of digital exclusion must be heard when designing, developing and evaluating policies and programmes.
This is essential for public services to be truly inclusive, and for digital inclusion policy initiatives to have a real impact.
We want to see collaboration across all sectors to improve the lives of some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens.
The decisions that we make as a nation now as we rebuild and reset Wales following the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term implications for our communities and the people who live in them.
If we all work together, we can make Wales an exemplar for Digital Inclusion, from which we will all benefit.
If you are interested in learning more about DIAW and our Agenda for change, or would like to join us please visit http://www.digitalcommunities.gov.wales/digital-inclusion-alliance-wales/
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