Digital inclusion is ensuring the benefits of the internet and digital technologies are available to everyone. Digitally excluded people can lack skills, confidence and motivation, along with having limited or no access to digital equipment and affordable connectivity.
Alongside this, improving digital skills across all qualification levels is central to the levelling up agenda, with the difference in skill levels linked to differing outputs and wages across regions.
Home schooling and home working during Covid-19 lockdowns highlighted issues with digital inclusion in local communities. The pandemic has demonstrated the vital role of digital technologies with a significant share of the population being confined at home during various periods of the pandemic, the need for good internet connectivity, appropriate digital tools and digital skills to use those tools has surfaced rapidly. A large number of activities related to work, education, healthcare, caring, shopping, socialising and other pastimes, moved from the physical to the virtual world and are expected to remain.
The Tees Valley Digital Strategy sets out our high-level ambition for digital inclusion and skills:
We will ensure the benefits of the internet and digital technologies are available to everyone, while ensuring the supply of Tees Valley residents with high-level digital skills meets employer demand.
Within the Tees Valley there are several local initiatives aimed at improving digital inclusion, including:
South Tees Digital Development Partnership (STDDP) which provides the strategic coordination of activities across Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland. The STDDP has launched Furbdit which works to reduce digital poverty by collecting unwanted digital devices and IT equipment, refurbishing, and donating back to the community.
Hartlepower have provided community broadband programmes to help combat digital exclusion, providing unlimited broadband through a free router and low-cost pay-as-you-go connections to disadvantaged residents. Hartlepower works collaboratively with voluntary sector partners, local authorities, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to deliver this programme
Catalyst Stockton have set up a Digital Inclusion project which aims to improve the quality of life for residents of Stockton-on-Tees who do not have access to digital services, and have developed a series of short videos to help residents to be digitally included.
DINE – Digital Inclusion North East – based in Darlington this initiative was created to help plug the gaps created by digital inequity across the North East of England.