Yesterday I gave a speech at the Institute of the Future of Work’s Conference on “Setting the Vision: the Future of Work in Britain” in Westminster. The event was in collaboration with the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on Inclusive Growth. Here is what I said.
Good Things Foundation is a social change charity that is driving social and digital inclusion. We work with thousands of hyperlocal partners, supporting excluded people to become digitally able and active and apply this to important aspects of their lives be it health or getting a job or grow financial resilience. Working to deliver good lives and good society.
We’ve supported over 2.8 million people, but I don’t want to start with a stat I want to start with the story of a real person and her own journey to digital and social inclusion. This shows the intersectionality between digital and social inclusion.
Carolyn Hill was unexpectedly made redundant. She was devastated. Her lack of work was compounded with debt, having left a partner who had put her into real financial difficulties. Carolyn needed a new job and knew she’d have to apply online but she didn’t know how. She didn’t even know how to turn a computer on, and waited for her children to come home from school to do job searches for her. Eventually, Carolyn got support from a local Liverpool community partner to learn new basic digital skills, and they helped her to learn how to manage her finances, and gave her volunteering opportunities. Carolyn got a job she loves – cleaning for Arriva.
To get to a society that prioritises good work we need to address persistent inequalities, and focus on three things: 1. Digital Equality. 2. The Power of Local. 3. Fixing the demand side.
1. Digital Equality
Working age adults in households in the poorest social economic groups are three times more likely to be non-internet users.
Digital is amazing, life enhancing, and beneficial, and as with so many other things it compounds inequality. Digital exclusion exacerbates social exclusion. And with over 11m people who are digitally illiterate, millions of people are at risk of being left further behind. The good news is we can do something about it.
We can achieve a 100% digitally included Britain, in a positive and purposeful way. Good Things Foundation is leading a partner campaign – Bridging the Digital Divide – calling on political parties and other organisations to help the UK become the most digitally included nation globally, ensuring we get 100% of the people in the UK thriving in a digital world by 2028. If we don’t then in ten years there will still be almost 7 million adults who remain excluded from our digital society.
I’m frustrated that our work only reaches a quarter of a million people a year when millions of people need support, but working in partnership, and working on collective solutions, I know we can achieve more.
2. The Power of local.
I believe that the big answers lie in large scale and system changes, and I believe we absolutely need local to be part of this. We talk about work being ‘hollowed out’ by disruption and technology; but it’s important to see that austerity has hollowed out many of our communities, and I don’t just mean high streets, I mean community organisations who no have no money and if they’re surviving often it’s because staff who were once paid are now volunteers. We must make it a priority to reverse this and make communities stronger again.
At Good Things Foundation, we work with thousands of hyperlocal community organisations, and our work shows the power of local – in valuing ownership by local community players, working across all sectors, using co-design to find solutions that meet needs, and delivering blended solutions (with both fabulous human beings + use digital tools for the heavy lifting, scaling, measurement, and quality).
This is “networked hyper local” – both bottom up and top-down models and action; being both in the heart of communities and here in Westminster.
Good work will depend on strong local communities – and we must reverse the current decline, we must believe in the power of local.
3. Fix the demand side (as well as supply side).
The recent Social Mobility Commission Report told us that 49% of the poorest adults have received no workplace training since leaving school, compared to 20% of the richest adults. This means those on low pay, or with a lower basic level of skills, are often trapped in low paying jobs, without the opportunity to upskill, and are being excluded from new opportunities. We can’t just fix the supply side and assume the ‘lifelong learner’ side will fix itself.
The people who really need good work, are also the same people who need lifelong learning. These are not the people who demand it, nor those who turn up when it’s provided.
The people I meet in our local community partners’ centres too often lack hope. They feel that they have been failed for decades, we’ve got to help him to believe that there is a better future – aspiration is important. We need to face up to the fact that many people have low learning confidence meaning they won’t just spontaneously look for learning opportunities. We need to focus not just on skillset but on mindset too.
Persistent inequality in learning cannot be fixed with just more “courses” by the same providers. We need to be innovative in the pathways we’re offering. We need to ensure we’re enabling and empowering so that people have the confidence, self efficacy, adaptability and a joy of learning so they can be resilient to all that they want to achieve in their working lives is possible.
We must make lifelong learning that is truly for everyone. We must work hard to reach the people least likely to engage. We need to motivate and inspire people to feel hope, to believe in themselves, to see the pathways for them to learning new skills, and to better participation in the decisions that affect them.
Carolyn didn’t just lack the skills she needed to apply for work online, she needed someone to believe in her, to understand the range of barriers she faced, to give her an opportunity to fix her finances and volunteer as well as learn basic digital skills. The support she got didn’t just give her a leg up to find work, but it made her a happier, healthier and better off human being, who is more connected to her community.
Warm words and a big vision is not enough – we need action and practical steps. We can use digital inclusion to help provide pathways, to reduce inequalities, and to shape a better future of work and make sure that everyone has access to good work and good lives.