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Citizens Online Publish Digital Inclusion Report

Citizens Online Publish Digital Inclusion Report

137,000 people aged 16 or over in Kent (nearly 10% of the population) have never used the Internet, or last used it over three months ago. Citizens Online was appointed by a consortium of social housing providers in Kent to research digital inclusion challenges and report recommendation to address them. The three members of the consortium – Town & Country Housing Group, Orbit, and Golding Homes – commissioned the research in order to improve their tenants’ basic digital skills, and their confidence to access online opportunities and services. The research focused on three boroughs: Maidstone, Thanet, and Tunbridge Wells.

During the research, Citizens Online engaged with over 50 organisations involved with digital inclusion work in the three focus areas. Their ‘Switch’ approach advocates building a local, cross-sector digital inclusion partnership to tackle digital exclusion in a resilient way by building an army of ‘embedded’ Digital Champions, as no single organisation can reach all of those excluded. This partnership could bring together local authorities, JobCentrePlus centres, libraries and voluntary sector organisations as well as more housing associations, to work jointly and strategically on a programme for greater digital inclusion. It is early days, but already 15 volunteer Digital Champions have been recruited – and between them have provided help with digital skills to over 100 people.

This work is part of the national ‘One Digital’ partnership, a collaborative initiative of five organisations, funded by the Big Lottery Fund to help people benefit from being online. Since the January 2016 launch the One Digital programme has successfully helped more than 11,000 people across the UK to get online, and by 2020 aims to improve the digital skills of another 40,000 people.

Citizens Online’s analysis identified that an estimated 4,417 benefit claimants in Maidstone, Thanet and Tunbridge Wells have low or no digital capability – and recommended the creation of a specific action plan engage with residents who are likely to find the transition from Housing Benefit claims to ‘digital by default’ Universal Credit claims a challenge. The report’s recommendations also include training more “Digital Champions” to help people with digital skills. These Digital Champions could be supporting people as volunteers in a community setting or as part of an employed role.

John Fisher, Chief Executive of Citizens Online, said: “We have been impressed with the Kent consortium’s willingness to work together on a joined-up solution to this difficult issue of supporting digital skills. We want to change the way local service providers and funders perceive the issue of digital inclusion - from being a ‘bolt-on activity’ to a way of working that is part of business as usual.”

Stuart Ilsley, Head of Service Transformation at Town & Country Housing Group said: “As part of this project we have the aspiration that all our customers can use technology and that nobody is left behind.  The comprehensive information collated by Citizens Online is an important enabler for shaping a strategy to close the digital skills gap at a local level.”

Caroline McBride Head of Community Development at Golding Homes said: "We live in a digital world and by not having access to the internet many are missing out on the benefits and opportunities that are available. We are pleased to have been part of this consortium which going forward will enable us to support our residents more effectively in being digitally included.”