Every day, the media is full of debate and challenge about what kind of society the United Kingdom can and should build in this new “age of austerity.” How much should we spend on public services? How can we foster entrepreneurialism? How do we support a growing and an aging population? The questions are important, and yet I feel the debate often fails to reflect properly on one of the biggest changes to the world of the last 20 years, changes that can help us combat each one of these challenges more effectively.
Digital is too often seen as relating only to hardware or software issues. The enormous power digitisation has to transform our economic, social, and civic worlds is still ignored.
Today, Go ON UK and Booz & Company will finally put the digital agenda at the heart of the agenda of economists, politicians, and social reformers, with the publication of ‘This is for Everyone: The Case for Universal Digitisation,’ It is the first report I have seen that links these worlds together and gives us a complete picture of the scale of the opportunity now on offer to the U.K.
Yes, the £63 billion potential GDP uplift is eye-catching. Digital clearly offers growth, particularly to the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. But far greater digital capability offers so much more: improvements in education, connecting the elderly and isolated to their communities more effectively, helping people back into work, and better health and social services. All these benefits make their greatest impact on the lives of the marginalized sections of society.
There are 10.8 million people in the U.K. who do not use the Internet, and they are consequently more vulnerable. As Booz & Company shows, this is no longer something we can dismiss as somebody else’s problem. We gain the full benefits ourselves only if everyone is online. The lack of basic digital skills for millions means “digitisation” is unbalanced—we will increasingly fall short of the U.K.’s potential if we do not start to address the problem.
That’s why this is such an urgent national priority and why Go ON UK, a cross-sector charity, which I chair, is taking a lead in broadening the skills of individuals and organisations. But it is too big a job for even this impressive group of partners.
The U.K. should grasp this moment to shape its own digital future. It should be a future in which no one is left behind and in which the benefits of digital are shared by all. That’s why I ask everyone— individuals, families, charities, businesses, and the government—to help unlock the powerful social and economic prize that waits us.
As Tim Berners-Lee said: “The Web as I envisage it, we have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past.”
My thanks to Booz & Company for their valuable work. For a copy of the full report, click here.