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Digital skills

Supporting people and communities to thrive online

Close-up of hands typing on a laptop computer.

This week is Get Online Week – a campaign run by the Good Things Foundation which celebrates digital inclusion. In this blog, we discuss the scale of digital exclusion across our communities, and look at what is needed to not only get people online, but do so in a way that makes way for positive opportunities.

At Catch22 we have been working to better understand the scale of digital exclusion for our communities:

  • we have identified some of the challenges and barriers people face when getting online, and how we can work to tackle these issues,
  • we have run a campaign to extend the Government provision of laptops for care leavers,
  • we have developed – collaboratively – a manifesto for a digitally included Britain, and
  • we have designed and developed a series of research pieces focusing on the impact of online harms on children and young people, and the barriers people face to developing the right digital skills needed for work and life.

What do we mean when we talk about “digital exclusion”?

It’s clear that people face many barriers to being digitally ‘included’, especially those already facing significant social inequality: from cost, accessibility and having the right support networks, through to a lack of digital skills and knowing how to stay safe online. For our service users this could look like the choice between paying for heating or for enough data to complete a job application, our teachers training parents or carers in how to access online learning platforms for their children, or our college students not being able to complete work and job searches due to single device access in a household with multiple users.

It’s widely agreed that digital exclusion is a problem, however there are still differing perceptions on how much of a problem it is. We know that just because a household has ‘internet access’ does not mean it is sufficient for what it’s needed for, or that the skills exist to maximise its use. Furthermore, many of the young people we work with are not claiming universal credit, and this excludes them from a lot of schemes that do exist to support with digital poverty.

Digital inclusion and online harms

It is also becoming increasingly clear just how closely linked the digital inclusion and online harms space is. There are lots of brilliant digital inclusion schemes in place, from Catch22’s own employability programmes focusing on digital skills, to Microsoft’s work to upskill young people, BT’s work to launch a social tariff, or Vodafone’s SIM scheme for schools. But, young people need not just to be able to access the online world or be skilled in how to use it, they also need to stay safe. That means thinking beyond blanket regulations which prevent young people using online spaces.

Enabling people to thrive online

We must look to consolidate everything that does exist, and is working, into a national strategy, led by Government but delivered across society. It must include tech companies who have the ability, know-how and the job opportunities, charities who are deeply embedded in and know their communities, and local authorities working to deliver vital local services. We must enable young people and adults to get online, in a way which is safe and opens the doors to the positive opportunities available.

We are proud to be part of many coalitions actively working to tackle this head on – from The Digital Poverty Alliance, to FutureDotNow, and as we approach the end of Get Online Week, we are looking ahead to the launch of two significant pieces of research – one focused on online harm experienced by children and young people, and the other in partnership with Nominet to gain insights on barriers to digital skills and access for the most disadvantaged young people in the UK. We hope these pieces of research will contribute towards enabling young people to not only survive online, but to thrive online.