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Covid-19 makes digital exclusion an emergency


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1.7 million are isolated by Covid-19 and are not online. We need to include them now, writes Helen Milner chief executive of the Good Things Foundation

There’s an urgent issue that we must address, and address as soon as possible. 1.7 million households in Britain don't have, and can’t afford, access to the internet.

As the lockdown remains firmly in place to curb the spread of Covid-19, vulnerable people find themselves shut in their homes, facing social isolation with no means of communicating with the outside world. They’re not online, and are unable to find accurate health information or access the government services they need to support themselves.

They’re at risk from COVID-19 and they’re at risk of being completely excluded from essential services and from online access to the comfort and support from family, friends and their communities.

That’s why FutureDotNow is working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on a new campaign called DevicesDotNow to tackle digital exclusion.

Open despite closures

The community organisations that we at Good Things Foundation work with up and down the country have been forced to close their physical doors for the first time in years - sometimes decades. But whilst their doors may be shut for face-to-face support, they remain very much open, providing a vital lifeline for vulnerable people through the phone and the internet. 

Take Alex, 24, from Newham. He worked in a restaurant until he was let go by his employer a week ago without any notice. Socially isolated with no support from friends or family, he approached Skills Enterprise, a community organisation in East London and part of Good Things’ Online Centres Network. They gave him advice over the phone about what he’s entitled to receive and how to claim it.

Our amazing community partners have been working tirelessly over the past weeks to provide essential Covid-19 support remotely, but many people simply do not have, and cannot afford, the devices and connectivity they need to access the internet.

When Fodie, 48, was sent home from her job working in the housing sector in Northumberland, her employer expected her to be able to work from home. But she did not have a laptop, and with a learning disability and low digital skills, Fodie was worried she would lose her job.

Turning to the local Being Woman community centre for help, things changed for Fodie when she was given a free device and online support. Now, she can work, has kept her job and her income, and feels part of a community, all directly from her own home. 

Urgent help

DevicesDotNow is calling on businesses across the country to donate tablets, smartphones, laptops, and connectivity in the form of SIMs, dongles and mobile hot spots, to urgently help the most vulnerable people in the UK to get online.

Behind every single household in that astonishing figure of the 1.7 million that lack internet access is a financially constrained person like Alex, or a vulnerable individual like Fodie. This is not a tomorrow problem - this is a problem now that needs addressing as quickly as possible, and we need your help.

I urge all businesses up and down the country to contribute to DevicesDotNow and share the message far and wide to help protect and empower some of the most vulnerable households in the UK and reduce the strain on our NHS.

Please visit DevicesDotNow to provide details of your donation. If you’d like to talk to someone, please email [email protected] and someone from the team will be in touch.

The Good Things Foundation is a digital inclusion charity. This piece was originally published on LinkedIn.

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