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Regional Covid-19 lockdowns will leave digitally excluded ‘stranded’

Charity calls on government to do more to level up digital skills as it warns that tougher regional lockdowns in the Midlands and the North will hit digitally excluded people the hardest

The Good Things Foundation has warned that the 3.6 million digitally excluded people in the Midlands and the North of England will be cut off from essential support if a regional lockdown happens.

With the government likely to introduce stricter Covid-19 coronavirus rules in those regions, the charity is concerned that people who are digitally excluded will struggle to cope.

Research for the charity by Simeon Yates, professor at the University of Liverpool, has found that 7.8 million people in the Midlands, North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber are only able to use the internet in a limited way, with 3.6 million being completely offline.  

The research also shows that only 18% of people in the North East can use the internet to its full potential, compared with 49% in the South East.

This, said the charity, means they are “locked out” of participation in government support schemes, job training and GP appointments, as well as leading to isolation and deteriorating mental health.

Good Things Foundation CEO Helen Milner said the pandemic had made digital skills “critical for everyone in the UK – which is why we urgently need a great catch-up to help people cross the digital divide”.

She added: “With nine million people across the country still unable to fully use the internet, we are in danger of heading back to the dark lockdown days of April, when people were, shockingly, being forced to choose between data and food.

“Through our work, we saw millions of people being locked out of access to GP appointments, social contact and essential government services. We can’t let this happen again – but the real fear is that this is where we are heading unless the government acts swiftly, working with businesses and other organisations like ourselves to help more people get across the digital divide.” 

The charity, backed by 33 MPs, is calling on the government to commit to levelling up the UK’s digital divide.

As Computer Weekly reported earlier this year, the increasing reliance on technology has shone a light on the digital divide, with some people unable to use technology to carry out the things they need to do.  

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