Wales Co-operative Centre has joined up with 40 other organisations across the public, private and third sector to call for an end to digital exclusion in Wales.
The Digital Inclusion Alliance for Wales (DIAW) also includes BT, Dŵr Cymru, Citizens Advice Bureau, Disability Wales, Older People’s Commissioner and Public Health Wales. Today (18 March) it published an agenda for digital inclusion which sets out five priorities for the Welsh government.
DIAW wants policymakers to:
- Embed digital inclusion across all sectors
- Mainstream digital inclusion in health and social care
- Address data poverty as a key issue
- Prioritise digital skills in the post-Covid economy
- Set a new minimum digital living standard
The National Survey for Wales found that 90% of adults (16 and over) personally use the internet in 2019/20 – up from 77% in 2012/13. But Prof Hamish Laing, chair of the DIAW, warns this still falls short of where Wales needs to be as a digitally inclusive nation.
He said: “Covid-19 has shone a bright light on the country’s digital inequalities. Many children and young people have been unable to access learning online, patients have been unable to take part in video consultations, relatives have been unable to connect with loved ones isolated in hospital or care homes…the list goes on.
“Addressing digital exclusion is essential for a just and equal society and it requires sustained intervention, resourcing, and prioritising. Those ‘left behind’ are at risk of falling further behind if we do not tackle the stubborn levels of digital exclusion that persist. A great deal has already been achieved by Welsh government and other local digital inclusion initiatives in Wales but there is still more work to be done.”
Digital Communities Wales is a Welsh government-funded programme delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre in partnership with the Good Things Foundation and Swansea University. Since 2019 it has been working with all seven health boards in Wales to tackle digital exclusion. The support ranges from practical digital training for health professionals, to strategic support to help senior health executives integrate digital inclusion into their public-facing services.
Jocelle Lovell, director of inclusive communities at Wales Co-operative Centre and member of DIAW, said: “The rapid growth in digital technologies brings amazing opportunities for people to become more active partners in their own care. But there is also a serious risk that people who are digitally excluded get left behind.
“Without access to the internet, it can be difficult to find information, get answers to questions, and verify what is being reported. Internet access and basic digital skills also brings wider benefits that have been particularly important for many older people during the pandemic, such as helping them to stay connected with family and friends and access useful online services including the delivery of food or medication.
“We must ensure that each person in the Welsh and social care workforce, including those who are unemployed and seeking work in these difficult circumstances, is given the necessary training to develop the digital skills needed to participate safely and effectively in the post-Covid digital economy.”
BT has already invested in a range of initiatives and campaigns to tackle digital exclusion across Wales, including the Skills for Tomorrow programme. Nick Speed, BT Group’s director in Wales, said: “We look forward to continuing our work with DIAW and other partners to highlight and address the barriers facing connectivity and digital skills in Wales.”