By Michael Phillips, Riverside’s lead for digital inclusion Digital inclusion means a whole range of different things to different people. As Get Online Week is underway I’ve been asked to unpick what digital inclusion means and why it’s so important. Perhaps because technology is moving so fast, it’s inevitable people will struggle to keep up. Certainly for some tenants, the latest befuddling advances in computing lead to a life which is completely offline. For others, the decision about whether to pay for a monthly contract with a major broadband provider, or make sure that the children are well fed, is not really difficult at all.
There’s no doubt that being able to access the internet is vital to functioning in a modern society.
It would not be unreasonable, even at this point, to see being online as the fourth utility. The government’s digital plans include exploring how health care is conducted and managed online. In the future, it is likely that information for many local authorities will only be online. And the speed, accessibility and ease of online transactions, such as banking, will be lost to many, most often to those who need it most.
We know that significant numbers of our tenants are missing out; on savings to be made, job vacancies, the ability to learn, to save money and to find the best energy tariffs. So we are committed to doing something about it. We are really focussed on those tenants who have never been online before, and therefore those people who are most likely to be left behind. We know that this is a difficult job. After all, if you have lived all your live without the internet, why would you start now?
We are committed to ensuring that our tenants understand the benefits of being online. So we are investing in community organisations, to ensure that the equipment for public use is updated and fit for purpose. And we are recruiting volunteers who will support our tenants as they take their first steps online. We are also making a significant investment, employing Digital Inclusion Apprentices in Liverpool and in Carlisle, to ensure that our tenants receive a brand new service, tailored to their needs, so that they are not left behind.
So that’s digital inclusion. Sadly, the people who are not digitally included will not be reading this on our website, nor through social media, and that’s part of the problem.It’s far easier to access people already online, but they’re not the ones in need of our support. However housing providers are in a unique position, as we have regular contact with our tenants, including those who are offline. We’re already out in neighbourhoods, speaking to people in places where they meet and interact regularly. We’re also using our network of community partners to encourage people to get online, as well as our staff who connect with tenants on a daily basis, to spread the word and the benefits of the digital age.