The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched a Digital Inclusion Service pilot aimed at helping thousands of digitally excluded Londoners gain access to the internet.
The programme, in partnership with the London Office of Technology and Innovation (LOTI) and Good Things Foundation, will provide residents of the capital with second-hand devices and free or low-cost mobile connectivity with the aim of helping around 75,000 people online over the next three years.
It will also make people more aware of any skills development programmes available across London that offer education in digital.
Funded by the London Recovery Programme, the Digital Inclusion Service will encourage businesses to donate phones and laptops to be refurbished and provided to people who need them, such as people in temporary accommodation, those lacking devices, older or vulnerable people, or staff and volunteers at community support organisations.
“Every Londoner should have digital access, but the sad reality is that too many Londoners lack the skills, technology and infrastructure to get online easily, preventing them from accessing the tools they need to thrive,” said Khan.
“The new Digital Inclusion Service will build on the amazing work already underway to tackle digital exclusion, and bring vital resources such as devices, connectivity and learning opportunities to the fingertips of those who need them,” he said.
“I’m calling on large businesses and public bodies to join us in upcycling their old laptops and other tech to the new Device Bank to be reconditioned, to help bridge the digital divide, aid London’s recovery and build a better London for everyone.”
Digital is becoming an increasingly important part of day-to-day life, but many in the UK are still without either the basic digital skills needed for work and life, or a device to give them access to the internet.
According to Lloyds Bank’s Essential digital skills report 2021, around 270,000 people in London have either no access to the internet or no digital access either, and around two million may have a device but cannot get online or use online services.
While LOTI found there are more than 100 initiatives in London trying to help people gain digital access, it argued many only offer one of the three things needed to support people in becoming digitally included – basic skills, cheap access to the internet and a device.
The Digital Inclusion Service will work with the Good Things Foundation, which will distribute “upcycled” donated devices through a new Device Bank, which will also reduce the number of devices that end up in landfill.
A list of skills development, already offered by the Good Things Foundation, the Greater London Authority, charities and different London boroughs, will be provided as part of the project.
A Data Bank will also be launched to provide either free or cheap mobile connectivity and promote any cheap internet connections that telecoms firms are offering, which the Digital Inclusion Service refers to as “social tariffs”, as well as create a network of organisations across London which are working to create digital inclusion to encourage collaboration.
Helen Milner, group chief executive of the Good Things Foundation, said: “The pandemic didn’t create the digital divide, but it did expose and exacerbate it. With more than a quarter of a million Londoners still completely offline, fixing the digital divide is now an urgent priority.
“We’re delighted to work with the London Office of Technology and Innovation to create a uniquely sustainable service that can be rolled out to the rest of the UK, as the London Digital Inclusion Service becomes part of our digital circular economy,” she said. “By working together, we can do good things for the planet, good things for excluded people and help fix the digital divide.”
Several initiatives already exist to try to increase the capital’s tech capabilities. Last year saw the Mayor launch a digital task force aimed at developing solutions for the digital divide in London, and earlier this year he launched an initiative to increase the number of young black men in tech employment in the city.