In a comment piece for Housing Executive, Kate Lindley of Socitm Advisory explains why partnerships are key to improving digital inclusion and calls for landlords to work together to maximise the impact of their initiatives.
“What does digital exclusion mean? It means not having the technology, connectivity or knowledge and skills to use the internet or online services.
Research shows that around four million people living in social housing are digitally excluded.
This may be because they are struggling financially and can’t afford a smartphone or tablet, or it might be they have the equipment but not the internet access because of the cost of a contract. Others may simply not have the knowledge and skills needed.
Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that digital exclusion increases inequality.
Reports to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee highlight the personal impact of exclusion – with households missing out on savings of around £560 per year from shopping and paying bills online.
They also found people with good ICT skills earn between three to 10 per cent more than people without such skills.
The fact that Universal Credit must be claimed online means that many landlords have already taken action to improve digital inclusion in their communities – but there are opportunities to do more – and housing associations have a key role to play.
By supporting tenants to get connected, landlords can improve lives. Connected tenants can find the best deals on utilities, access online job applications and connect more easily into education.
Across the sector we are already seeing good work to improve digital inclusion. For example, many landlords offer digital skills workshops and are securing better, faster broadband deals for tenants.
But how can we go further and make a bigger impact?
To really understand the needs of tenants, and who is digitally excluded and why, we need to have good data – and to work in partnership.
Data is at the heart of good decision making and digital inclusion is no different. In the last few months, Greater Manchester Combined Authority launched a national Digital Exclusion Risk Index designed to use data to identify communities most at risk from exclusion and free for anyone to use.
This, and tools like it, are helpful in understanding where best to focus efforts and to gain maximum value from inclusion investments.
Partnering to deliver
At Socitm Advisory, we recently led a national research project looking at the impact of digital inclusion initiatives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the areas with strong embedded
partnerships already in place were the ones that were better at targeting support and making a difference using all of the partners at their disposal, compared to those that operated in isolation.
Greater collaboration across sectors means that each partner’s individual strengths can be best used in the interest of the whole and there are some great examples out there of good practice.
In Stockport, the council and its partners have set up a Digital Inclusion Alliance across all sectors, including housing, to help digitally excluded residents to gain the digital skills, confidence and access they need to use the internet. The Digiknow movement has so far implemented a network of champions, a dedicated helpline and a device lending library, helping thousands of residents to improve their digital skills.
In Greater Manchester, the combined authority has set up a Digital Inclusion Taskforce with an ambition to make Greater Manchester a 100% digitally-enabled city region. The taskforce is made up of more than 180 members from across the industry, VCSC sector, public sector partners, local government, housing, schools and health, pushing together to make a difference.
The Cambridgeshire Digital Partnership has been established to promote good practice and working relationships between service providers and individuals from the voluntary, community and statutory sectors and to develop funding opportunities. There are even more examples like this out there.
Voluntary organisations such as Age UK, Citizens Advice and others are important partners in tackling digital exclusion. They are often ‘at the coal face’ of exclusion, helping those most in need to access services for a variety of purposes and as a result often provide pragmatic help, aligned to other service provision.
Finally, from Barclays Digital Eagles and Lloyds Bank’s Digital support to Google’s Digital Garage and Vodafone, Virgin and O2, many private sector organisations are doing their bit to help customers build their digital skills.
Our research indicates that inclusion approaches that are designed and delivered in partnership are more likely to make an impact – so our ask of the sector is simple. Look outwards, create a local coalition of the willing – and maximise the difference you can make together. Find out more by searching Socitm Advisory, or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org