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Andy Burnham launches Manchester digital inclusion drive

Greater Manchester mayor announces plan to support under-25s, over-75s and disabled people to get online

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham is aiming to tackle digital exclusion in the city after figures from Ofcom suggest that up to 1.2 million residents may be digitally excluded.

The mayor has launched a digital inclusion action network, which will focus on ensuring that target groups, such as the under-25s, over-75s and disabled people, have the skills, equipment and connectivity to get online.

Ofcom figures show that in the past three months, 176,000 Greater Manchester residents have not accessed the internet at all, while overall, 1.2 million people in the region could be digitally excluded, unable to, for instance, use online banking or online public services.

Burnham said the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted “invisible inequalities and increasing social divides” in the region.

“We have all seen more of our lives move online and this risks excluding those who do not have digital connectivity,” he said. “Closing the digital divide now needs to become a much higher priority. The time is coming when we need to see digital connectivity as a basic human right. Without it, people will be shut out of the conversation, lose access to essential services and miss out on a whole range of opportunities.

“This is why I am setting a new ambition to help all under-25s, over-75s and people with disabilities in Greater Manchester to get online. We want to create a new drive involving partners from public, private and community sectors to provide the kit, connectivity and skills that people need. The new digital action network and the digital inclusion taskforce will be the driving force behind this new ambition to fix the digital divide across Greater Manchester.”

The network to tackle digital exclusion will be led by people who have “lived experience” within these target groups.

Read more about digital inclusion

  • Taskforce focused on increasing digital inclusion in London will promote digital skills and increase access to devices and connectivity.
  • Survey reveals connectivity speeds are considered inadequate in 30% of properties and over one-third admit to judging the competence of colleagues who have connectivity issues during conferencing sessions.
  • Combined authority’s 2021-2026 digital roadmap aims to address the digital divide and make the West Midlands the most digitally connected region in the country. 

In December 2020, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) launched a digital inclusion taskforce to address the region’s shortcomings.

With senior representatives from the industry, community groups and local government, the group aims to address the barriers of digital exclusion and inequality in internet access, through a joined-up approach informed by local needs and shared learning, resources and expertise.

Digital inclusion plays a key role in the Greater Manchester living with Covid-19 resilience plan. The taskforce launch follows the announcement of the Greater Manchester Technology Fund at the start of the pandemic, in which GMCA, Virgin Media and ANS Group are involved.

The initiative aims to address the gaps in support and provide more than 500 devices to “digitally marginalised” students who did not have the technology or connectivity means to access school or support systems and continue to learn from home.

Burnham added: “Greater Manchester is the fastest-growing digital and tech hub in Europe and is increasingly seen as the UK’s leading digital city-region. Setting a new ambition of helping all under-25s online sends an important message to potential investors about our commitment to improving digital skills.”

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