The Good Things Foundation has published a report entitled ‘The Economic Impact of Digital Skills and Inclusion in the UK’.

The report sets out the economic case for interventions to support digital inclusion based on an analysis by Cebr (Centre for Economic and Business Research). It was commissioned by the Good Things Foundation in partnership with Capita.

The report notes that “people without access, motivation, confidence and basic digital skills to use the internet face exclusion in our modern digital world”, but highlights that digital inclusion “has increased over the past five years, accelerated in the pandemic as as people go online out of necessity.”

Not everyone benefited, however; the report says that while the digital divide has narrowed over the past two years, it has also widened. Figures from UK Essential Digital Skills and Lloyds Banking Group 2021 show that the number of people aged 75 or over without ‘essential digital skills for life’ has risen by 5 per cent from 2019 to 2020 and by 11 per cent from 2019 to 2021. This suggests that factors such as lockdown, social isolation, experiences of poor health, service disruptions and low incomes contribute to this.

The report states: “Evidence on what works in delivering digital inclusion in practice consistently points to the need for sustained, patient, trusted support for older and working-age adults furthest from digital inclusion: finding the right hook, motivating people through quick wins, reassuring and being there when things go wrong, or providing extra support when they’re learning to do new things online.”

The report shares how the data used by Cebr comes from multiple sources, including the Office for National Statistics, UK Essential Digital Skills data (Lloyds Banking Group with Ipsos Mori), the Good Things Foundation, the Cabinet Office and the Department for Transport.

Key findings include:

  • There are projected benefits to the government of £1.4 billion through efficiency savings alone, along with £483 million in increased tax revenue. It should be noted that the NHS is expected to save a further £899 million.
  • For every £1 invested in interventions to enable digitally excluded people to build basic digital skills, £9.48 is gained across the economy, with a net present value return of £12.2 billion.
  • Significant progress was made across communities and sectors, particularly in the pandemic; Cebr estimates that the number of people without basic digital skills in the UK has fallen from 12.4 million in 2019 to an estimated 10.6 million by the end of 2022.
  • Between 2023 and 2032, an estimated 508,000 people will need annual interventions to build their digital skills. The estimated cost of delivering this intervention is £1.4 billion, while the economic benefits accrue to £13.7 billion.

There is still some way to go, with 5.8 million people expected to remain digitally excluded by the end of 2032.

Going into more detail about the savings for the NHS, the report states that it is estimated that £20 million will be saved annually through people receiving digital skills support for health and wellbeing. This figure is based on cohorts of 508,000 learners being trained to build their digital skills each year between 2023 and 2032, and will result in a cumulative saving of £899 million.

This saving is said to come from reduced GP appointments, with the benefits arising from people being supported to access online services and information and to use digital offerings to look after their wider wellbeing. “This is particularly important for the high proportion of older adults in the target group, many of whom will live alone, provide or receive informal care and/or have a disability or health condition,” the report commented.

Among its recommendations for the future, the report highlights the need to “build on the lessons learned during the pandemic to maintain momentum” and adds that “people need a holistic digital inclusion offer that reflects their individual needs – including devices, internet data and support. This is best achieved by trusted local organizations coordinated at national level.’

In addition, it highlights the importance of noting priority policy areas “where failure to tackle the digital divide will block progress: the UK’s Upscaling Agenda and Shared Prosperity Fund, reducing health inequalities, sustainable inclusive growth , digital health and social care’.

He continues: “Achieving a digitally inclusive society will not happen without strategic, coordinated action targeting the people and places where it is most needed, using a holistic approach.

“Digital inclusion strategies at all levels – from county councils to combined authorities – need to recognize that the most challenging part of the country’s digital inclusion journey lies ahead. There is a risk that momentum will be lost and the lessons learned from the pandemic will be forgotten.

“Cebr’s analysis provides a solid base from which local authorities, combined authorities, city regions and national governments can build their business case. Even without monetising the wider social, health and civic benefits (such as reducing loneliness) or calculating cost savings in other sectors (such as social care), the economic case for investing in digital inclusion is clear.”

To read the full report, please click here.

Good Things Foundation publishes report on investment in digital inclusion

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