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The UK is at risk of leaving millions of people digitally excluded from society, and is missing out on billions of pounds in economic benefits, according to a report by Good Things Foundation, a social change charity that focuses on using digital resources to support socially excluded people.
The report looks at how many UK adults will be left behind as more and more services go digital, predicting that nearly seven million – 12% of the UK’s adult population – will still lack the basic digital skills required by society in 2028.
These skills include managing information, communicating, transacting, creating and problem-solving. An individual who can successfully undertake all of these tasks is considered to have basic digital skills.
As it stands, however, 21% of the UK population lacks at least one basic digital skill, leaving the equivalent of 11.3 million adults in the UK digitally excluded.
While this figure has decreased from the 12.6 million observed in 2015, the financial consequences of such a large digitally excluded population could run into the billions if left unresolved.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee acknowledged the issue in its Digital Skills Crisis report, which estimates that the digital skills gap is costing the UK economy £63bn a year in potential GDP.
Good Things claims upskilling the population could bring £21.9bn in economic benefits within a decade, with £1.1bn being the value of time saved alone.
On top of this, the NHS would be set to make a £141m saving through increased use of online services, while the total earnings benefit to the economy is estimated to be £571m.
The report also points out that longer life expectancies and smaller pension pots, in tandem with increasing automation and digitisation of the workplace, means a more digitally experienced population is needed to cope with the changes.
It is estimated, however, that a £1.2bn investment commitment is required over the next 10 years to achieve a fully digitally included population, with tuition costs varying from £42 to £380 per learner, depending on their age, disability status and previous digital skills level.
Despite this substantial financial commitment, Good Things Foundation suggests that providing everyone with essential digital skills will lead to a benefit of £15 for every £1 invested.
The chief executive of Good Things, Helen Milner, said: “The UK could be the first 100% digitally included nation, and this report shows there is a clear economic case for investing. So we’re calling on government and businesses to commit to getting everyone online in the next 10 years.
“Those who profit most from digitisation have a responsibility to help improve digital inclusion.”
To help instigate the necessary change, Good Things Foundation has launched the #BridgingtheDigitalDividecampaign and has developed resources to help organisations and individuals understand what they can do to promote digital inclusion.