Achieving “better outcomes for everyone” requires a recognition that the well-established indicators of poverty and inequality are highly correlated with digital poverty; the move to ‘digital by default’ might amplify these inequalities. Evidence also shows that the level and quality of household digital assets is closely tied to country or regional levels of digitalisation and public policies.
Current government policies to address digital exclusion often focus on issues of connectivity and digital assets, i.e., access to the hardware or the digital skills to use the software. However, we know that digital access and usage are divided across a number of intersectional dimensions related to gender, class, age, ethnicity, disability and region. Monitoring these impacts of digital exclusion is woefully poor across the EU, and marginally better in the UK (Verdin et al. 2023b).
Some third sector organisations and businesses are making innovative inroads to address these problems, but actions are often fragmented and poorly coordinated. Governments need a digital inclusion strategy to address these intersectional factors and the ways in which already marginalised groups may be further excluded.
From fragmentation to synergy in the UK
Our research highlights the need to focus on improving the ‘digital dialogues’ between business, government and third sector organisation in order to develop a more effective digital work and welfare ecosystem.
The challenges of building this new digital ecosystem are considerable. It relies on the effective coordination and synergies of key actors. It requires perceptive leadership, digital literacy and sustainable infrastructure at multiple levels to ensure effective dialogues about digital futures and inclusion.
Importantly, digitalisation of public service delivery must be connected to challenges arising from digitalisation of employment; platform jobs and the increasing platformisation of everyday jobs may increase the number of people falling outside of existing social protection systems or into poor quality work. Policymakers will need to ensure robust income maintenance policies for those with insufficient income from paid work and regulation of the labour market to address emerging gaps.
To effectively address these challenges, and achieve the goals laid out in the UK Government’s Digital and Data Strategy, policymakers must focus on developing a more robust, integrated and resilient digital ecosystem.