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The UK tech sector has been a force for good during the Covid-19 pandemic

The UK's digital minister hails the tech companies that have helped people cope with many of the challenges of living through lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic

It’s dark and cold outside. Christmas is over. And if you’re anything like me, New Year’s resolutions have already gone out the window. No wonder the third Monday of January is dubbed “Blue Monday” - the most depressing day of the year.

And, this year, as we stay home to protect the NHS and save lives, we may all feel even more isolated or blue. But it is important to remember we are in fact more connected than ever.

Technology has been an incredible force for good in our lives and allowed us to keep close to friends and family during the pandemic while helping keep the economy going. But it does not just facilitate everyday life, it enriches it. That is something we need to celebrate.

A positive difference

Tech firms are making a positive difference in so many parts of our lives. We can now order groceries or medical supplies “contact free” through apps such as Echo, a free prescription tool which allows you to order repeat prescriptions to your door. It has been a lifesaver for people across the country during lockdown periods.

Elsewhere, online events firm Hopin is helping to bring work colleagues together remotely with tools for virtual talks and networking, while Life Lines is providing a secure virtual visiting solution for families whose loved ones are in intensive care.

Tackling loneliness during the pandemic remains at the forefront of the government’s mind.

We are supporting charities and organisations to make sure no one feels isolated and have invested more than £30m into charities focused on reducing loneliness and a further £44m to organisations supporting people with their mental health. 

These groups are adapting their incredible work quickly and tapping into the capacity of tech to bring people together.

People are inherently social, so we naturally crave this kind of social interaction. We see this from the record internet data usage on Boxing Day as many families came together to celebrate digitally.

And it is why the government has provided thousands of care homes across England with up to 11,000 iPads worth £7.5m and including data-enabled Sim cards and support for care staff. This means residents can stay in touch with their loved ones and we can reduce the risk of infection from people going into homes while helping tackle loneliness.

Interconnected world

One of the ways they can do this is through tools developed by UK tech firm KOMP which brings the joys of an interconnected world to those who are unaccustomed to gadgets and particularly susceptible to loneliness. It provides seniors with a one-button computer which allows family members to make video calls, share photos and send messages to relatives in a safe and secure way, without the need to remember passwords, use touch screens, or navigate complicated user interfaces.

For many around the world, life has changed dramatically in this last year and it has been anything but easy. UK healthtech firms have stepped forward to help.

Unmind is a workplace mental-health platform which gives people tools to help improve sleep, reduce stress and manage anxiety. It is offering its service for free to all NHS workers. Headspace, the mindfulness app which offers guided meditation to help combat these issues, is giving everyone with an NHS email free access.

Our dynamic tech sector is also creating solutions to combat the virus. 

Remote GP service Babylon Health has released a free symptom tracker app and Cheshire-based automation firm Blue Prism has donated “robot workers” to the NHS to help Trusts automate manual processes from hiring staff to increasing video patient consultations.

It’s in part due to this creative, problem-solving entrepreneurship that we have seen incredible resilience from our tech sector over the last year. Last week new figures from Dealroom revealed London received more venture capital investment than any other European city in 2020.

And it is by no means limited to the capital. Our burgeoning regional tech hubs continue to grow. In Edinburgh 28% of job openings are in tech; Yorkshire and the Humber’s digital sector employs more than 53,000 people; and the average salary for an open tech role in Bristol is higher than any other industry at more than £50,000.

Job vacancies

In fact, data from Tech Nation for 2020 shows the entire UK tech sector is making positive steps towards recovery from the impact of Covid-19, with job vacancies climbing 50% since the year’s lowest point in July.

While one Monday in January may have become known as a day to feel blue, we should all try to be thankful and optimistic as best we can. We have a route out of the pandemic with three vaccines proven to fight the virus. 

As the minister for digital I know the immense value of the tech sector in supporting us over the last year. I am incredibly thankful for its contribution and I will continue to be its champion as we look to build back better following these incredibly challenging times.

Caroline Dinenage is minister for digital and culture at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

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