Digital inclusion was important; now it’s essential

Tuesday 8 June 2021

We have seen during lockdown how much we rely on technology and how it can be used to keep us in touch with the world. We have used technology for our wellbeing, to reduce isolation by engaging on social media and video calls and used the internet to find and access mental health support. Shopaholics have continued with their habits by harnessing e-commerce and businesses have improved the use of Internet of Things to enable customers to track orders and for businesses themselves to see where their goods are in the disrupted supply chain.

Without having the technology and skills we would have struggled to work and learn from home, so as we emerge from lockdown there are a number of new habits that will create our ‘new normal’ to improve a work life balance. Many people will have discovered the benefits to online banking, online shopping and even being able to find cheaper utility suppliers. Charities will have found new ways and new audiences to raise the much needed funds that they need to continue. Public bodies and companies would have seen a whole new audience for their products and new people engaging with them increasing customer base and civic engagement.

New opportunities

5G technology is now available in Redbridge and this brings new opportunities to improve social mobility and economic growth. Businesses can reap the benefits of quicker transactions and being able to innovate with connected devices. We can improve accessibility by making better use of virtual and augmented reality bringing sensory experiences into people’s homes. Remote workers and learners can increase productivity by being in immersive virtual meetings. We can all use voice recognition and automatic interpretation as well as being able to access real time updates and faster download speeds.

Understanding the potential and knowing that 85% of jobs that will be available in 2030 have not even been invented yet can be scary for some and unleash exciting possibilities for others. We must remember that until now, using technology has been viewed as a choice people can make but as technology advances the benefits it brings will increase people’s likelihood to want to use it. We have to make sure that those who have been unable to, or have chosen not to, use smartphones or the internet are not left behind. There are many jobs that were once fully manual but now technology plays a role, whether that’s accessing a company’s intranet site for information or scanning jobs on a smart phone, we all need to have basic digital skills to work.

Combatting digital exclusion

We need to be ready for the rapidly moving world of technology and the open 24/7 global world we live in and that’s why we have brought together our partner organisations to look at digital exclusion within the borough and make sure everyone has an opportunity to get connected and has the skills and confidence to use basic digital products such as the internet, messaging services and emails.

Redbridge Council, RCVS, Vision, New City College, Redbridge Institute, Work Redbridge, Chamber of Commerce and DWP have come together as Connecting Redbridge to support the vision to “ensure people have the skills and access to benefit from digital technologies to make their lives easier”.

11% of our residents have not accessed the internet and a further 25% do not have the basic digital skills. We will bring our collective experience and deliver the skills and training needed to ensure that all those who want to can be are confident in using the internet.

100% of our borough has broadband but only 85% has fast fibre. We will be working with the GLA and Local London to ensure that the required infrastructure is put in place to ensure 100% of the borough can choose high speeds and we will work with data providers to ensure that there is an offer that meets everyone’s needs.

We don’t know how many devices are in the borough but we do know that over 10% of residents do not own a smartphone. We also know that during the pandemic there was a shortfall of about 6,500 devices to enable children to take part in virtual learning.

A collective voice

Connecting Redbridge will use its collective voice to raise the profile of digital exclusion in Redbridge and look to attract investment and funding. We will also work with other local authorities and national campaign groups to highlight issues that matter to the borough.

We also want to make sure that Redbridge’s small businesses have the skills and knowledge to take advantage of the 5G infrastructure and have the fast fibre capability they need.

We’ll also be engaging with staff in our organisations to make sure they have the skills to help residents and understand the importance of designing digital journeys that meet the accessibility needs of our customers.