New government campaign aims to get more people using the internet.
E-envoy Andrew Pinder has called on firms to encourage their IT staff help people get to grips with the web as part of a new government initiative to boost internet use. The Get Started campaign, which was launched this week, aims to get more single parents, long-term unemployed, ethnic minorities and disabled people online.
While the internet is part of everyday life for many people in the UK, work is urgently needed to reach those sections of the population that have been unable to experience the benefits of using the internet.
It would seem that the UK is becoming a society of information haves and have-nots. Figures from the Office for National Statistics, for example, showed that significant sections of the adult population, particularly groups such as the disabled and the long-term unemployed, are still not online. The ONS revealed that, while 52% of the adult population can be counted as regular internet users, there has been little growth in internet access among the lowest income bracket, with just 10% online compared to 82% of high earners.
The research has implications for the success of a variety of online projects from the public sector, retailers and charities. For example, earlier this year, the National Audit Office told the government it needed to boost the number of older people using e-government services for them to be commercially viable.
The high-profile Get Started campaign aims to tackle some of the main barriers to getting online, such as a lack of skills and no access to hardware. As part of the campaign, which will run until 30 June, members of the public will be eligible for a free internet introductory session at one of 6,000 participating UK Online centres.
Pinder said, "What we are trying to do here is to reach out to people in particular situations and encourage them to use this technology and all the free facilities that we have provided."
The government will also be working hard to highlight the benefits of getting online, and has even recruited the services of Coronation Street star Samia Ghadie to help publicise the initiative. Better known to soap viewers as Maria Sutherland, Ghadie was scheduled to visit each of the Granada-owned ITV regions in a helicopter this week handing out free computers.
Partners including the BBC, Hewlett-Packard and Age Concern will also be working to support the project. Age Concern, for example, has launched its own Silver Surfer Festival as part of Get Started. Run in partnership with Microsoft, Cable & Wireless and UK Online, the festival is a month-long campaign to promote the benefits of the internet to older people and provide free internet access and training.
An Age Concern spokeswoman said, "From our point of view, Get Started is important because it is key for older people to be involved in the internet revolution. They stand to gain the most from being included and, to date, they haven't been targeted by the online industry."
Pinder believes the campaign could be the start of a number of similar initiatives such as joint working with trade unions to address the UK's IT skills gaps.
Pinder urged IT professionals to join the Get Started initiative by helping someone get online. "I would like to see more firms that use technology encouraging their IT-enabled employees to go out there, have a day off, and help the have-nots," he said.
How to help someone get online:
The campaign's objectives
- To invite people to experience the benefits of going online through free introductory internet sessions at UK Online centres
- To highlight the benefits of using the internet
- To break down the barriers that prevent people getting online.