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One of the announcements in the recent government spending review was the intention to go digital by default for government services. £1.8 billion has been allocated to digital transformation, with £450 million going to the government’s digital services.
Why is the government so keen to push ahead with their digital service agenda? Well, one big reason is the potential to save significant amounts of money – it has been estimated that a digital transaction cost is 20 times less than on the phone and 50 times less than a face-to-face transaction. The government has calculated that going digital has already saved £1.2 billion up to spring 2015.
Of course, it also mirrors the way many of us live our lives. In fact, the pace of change is quite remarkable when you consider the world wide web was only made available to the general public in 1991, with mobile apps not appearing until 2008. Technology now reaches into all aspects of our lives from banking to health and fitness, shopping and socialising. But there is a down side.
An Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey from 2010 estimated that 9.5 million UK adults lack the minimum digital skills needed to live in this digital environment. There is a clear relationship between a person’s age and their Internet experience – a study from the Nominet trust found that 60% of people over 65 had never used the Internet (compared to just 1% of those aged 16-24). And there is a clear correlation with educational achievement – 55% of those with no formal qualifications had never used the Internet (compared to 2% of those with a degree). It therefore comes as little surprise that 4 million of the digitally excluded come from disadvantaged groups.
Why does this matter? All sorts of reasons. Financially, the worse off are less able to take advantage of the savings available through doing shopping and paying bills online – missing out on estimated savings of £650 a year. They will also be missing the social benefits being digitally connected offers. Time will tell whether inmates in prisons will be permitted to communicate directly with their families on a tablet, but it’s not difficult to understand why this has been identified as important to their mental health and ultimate rehabilitation. Perhaps more fundamentally, being digitally excluded brings huge problems in completing everyday activities. Most social housing bids now need to be completed on-line; job applications, including those advertised through the JobCentre, need to be completed on-line, and the new Universal Credit will be primarily an on-line service. This is of course aside from the digital skills needed to function in most of today’s jobs.
So the call to action is clear. The government’s digital inclusion strategy summarises the problem as “About having the right access, skills, motivation and trust to confidently go online.” This is therefore not an issue that can be solved by one organisation on its own. Given that bidding has just opened for the next round of European Social Fund money, this call to action is timely. It’s a great opportunity for local organisations to work together to help support their communities in bridging this divide.
Back in 1987, RSA (the ‘R’ in OCR) launched CLAiT – a qualification that helped up-skill office workers without the IT skills needed to use computers. It was incredibly successful with over 2.5 million CLAiT certificates issued since then. Whilst some of the basics have stayed the same, the environment has changed with, for example, a need for individuals to understand how they stay safe online, how to complete online forms and have an understanding of cloud computing. So we have recently launched a new Digital Employability qualification which encompasses the skills and knowledge needed to participate safely as a digital citizen and to demonstrate to an employer that an individual has the basic digital skills it requires. We look forward to working with organisations to support individuals to achieve digital inclusion.
Ros Kaijaks - Sector Manager
Ros Kaijaks is a Sector Manager for Employability, Enterprise and Entrepreneurship and Traineeship provision at OCR. Amongst her responsibilities is setting OCR’s strategy for these areas and leading product management to ensure OCR’s offer meets the needs of employers, centres, and other key stakeholders.
Ros has been with OCR since 1997, and has been involved in a variety of qualifications including CLAiT, Key and Functional Skills and Higher Apprenticeships. She is also a governor of a local primary school.