AFFE REBOOT BRITAIN Press Release & Report

Press Release 

Alliance for Full Employment

Wednesday 28 April 2021,

Alliance for Full Employment report calls on government to reboot Britain and build back UK online as our research reveals

  • Two million school children have been digitally excluded from their own education 
  •  At least 400,000 school children have no way to get online at home – AfFE
  •  1.6 m (1 in 5) children who were home schooling were without device when  needed- Ofcom
  • 1.5 million British households are without access to the internet – Ofcom 
  • “Britain now needs a robust national digital plan with free access to education information and reduced tariffs for low income households” – former PM Gordon Brown 
  • Internet access is “a basic human right” –  Internet founder Tim Berners Lee
  • “Societal dislocation is increasing…we cannot leave anyone behind”- Lady Martha Lane Fox

AS new figures show at least 2 million children have been digitally excluded from their own education over the last year  British inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners Lee, former PM Gordon Brown and former UK digital Tsar Martha Lane Fox have come together to demand a new digital inclusion strategy for Britain.

They want education and health information to on be zero-rated and provided free of charge on the internet and reduced charges on internet use for low income families and free laptops for school children.

Their demands follow new Research for the Alliance for Full Employment (AfFE) published today  revealing at least 400,000 children are still without access to devices and/or connections to support their education at home.

ONS statistics published today (Wednesday) show 1.5 million households are not on-line and a staggering 20pc of children who were home schooling did so without access to an approriate device. 

And AfFe research reveals a further 17.1 million adults in the UK lack essential digital skills in the workplace, the 11.7 million adults lack essential digital skills for life, and 9 million adults who cannot use the internet without help.

Berners Lee, Lane Fox and Brown are now leading the call on government to adopt a robust national plan to reboot Britain and place digital inclusion at the heart of educational and economic and jobs recovery. 

Working with experts across digital, telecoms, social mobility, regulatory, education, business and policy delivery fields AfFe has distilled cutting edge, digital levelling-up thinking into a new report, Reboot Britain: Building Back UK Online published today.

AfFE authors are optimistic that with Prime Ministerial and Treasury leadership Britain’s digital divide can be slashed by 50% within three years and 4.8 million people can be brought on-line by the end of this parliament. 

Web founders, Tim Berners Lee and Rosemary Leith and Open University Chancellor,  Martha Lane Fox  have written forwards to the Alliance report which calls for social tariffs and zero-rating ( no charges) to be introduced to enable all citizens equal access to local and national government services.

The report also notes that digital exclusion is higher in low income families outside London and the South East and that 77% of over 70s have very low digital engagement. 

Says Mr Brown “In the last year, we have managed the most technologically sophisticated task of all – to discover and then inject vaccines into the arms of millions. But we are still far behind in the far simpler task of getting laptops into the hands of the thousands who need them and spreading access to the internet to everyone . 

“Britain now needs a robust national plan to deliver digital access and inclusion to all our citizens. 

Few now doubt that first in this queue must be disadvantaged children – giving them the access to the devices and tuition they need to catch up on and continue their education after the pandemic.”

AfFE’s recommendations include:

  • Creating a UK Digital Inclusion Taskforce chaired by Prime Ministers to ensure coordinated targets and delivery of the reboot across UK nations and regions
  • Basic digital skills to be put on the the same educational footing as literacy and numeracy in schools with measurable Key Stage targets
  • Access for every child to a free aptop for at home and in class learning
  • £130m from the upcoming Shared Prosperity Fund to be distributed according to the Good Things Foundation directive to regional and local digital inclusion projects to get 4.8 million on-line by end of this Parliament
  • OFCOM to take the lead in providing social broad band tariffs so low income households can be connected to broadband 
  • Free on-line provision of essential public services – including digital education and training services training
  • DWP & DfE to ensure KickStart, Restart T-levels and Apprenticeships are tailored to digital training enhancing their suitability as access programmes for jobs of the future
  • 75% of those in work to be receive digital upskill training underwritten by the Department of Business & Skills and agreed with targets agreed with employers and trades unions.  

Mr Brown who co-founded the AfFE says, “Putting digital skill learning targets on the same footing as literacy and numeracy at the core of the national education curriculum and supplying devices on which all children can learn in the classroom and remotely will future-proof our children against further damage to their education. 

“But we should also follow the advice of The Good Things Foundation, included in this report, which says for a £130m investment we can get at least 4.8 more million people online by the end of this Parliament. That will halve the UK digital divide within three years. 

“Meaningful digital connectivity and inclusion are now the strong foundations beneath any serious levelling up strategy. A failure to fund it will not only perpetuate this systemic failure of children, it will also mean we will fail to build the future global workforce our nation needs. Failure cannot be an option. 

“As this report’s recommendations set out building back a fully digitally United Kingdom is now within our reach. The future wealth of our nations depends on it. And the time to build back digital is now.”

Says Lady Lane-Fox, ”In a world where health and education services and employment opportunities are increasingly delivered online and sometimes only online, we cannot leave anyone behind. We will increase societal dislocation and reduce individual empowerment and employment if we don’t prioritise increasing digital inclusion. 

And Mr Berners Lee and Ms Leith write, “The pandemic has caused serious hardship around the world, upending economies and disrupting lives. But for all this struggle, imagine how much worse Covid-19 would have been if it came 30 years earlier, in the pre-web era. For those who have it, the web has been a lifeline, not a luxury. 

“The critical importance of the web will only grow in the years ahead and so we must work urgently to ensure that everyone is included in our digital future. Otherwise the gap between the haves and have nots will only get bigger as the web becomes more powerful. 

“Basic access is just the beginning. Once people are online they must also have what we call “meaningful connectivity”, with the devices, data, speeds and skills they need to realise the full power of the web. At the same time, we must work to build a web that is safe and empowering, helpful not harmful, inclusive not exclusive. 

“As the web reshapes our world, we have a responsibility to make sure it works for all of humanity, not just a privileged few. We are currently falling far short. 

We need action now from everyone — governments, companies, civil society, and citizens — to work together now to create a better digital future. A future where everyone has meaningful access to a safe and empowering web. A place where internet access is understood — and realised — as a basic human right.” Business, think tanks and civil society organisations have welcomed the AfFcall for digital inclusion and building back smarter strategy to be put at the heart of meaningful economic recovery planning.

Liz Williams Chief Executive of FutureDotNow said, “The UK needs everyone at the digital starting line for the country to thrive in the future. This might sound simple, but it is now 2021 and over a third of adults lack essential digital skills and only 23% of workers have had any digital skills training from their employer. Progress is too slow. Government, businesses and civil society need to work together to drive change at pace.”

Helen Milner OBE, Chief Executive of Good Things Foundation said, “We’re delighted to see support for a comprehensive digital inclusion strategy at the heart of this plan for our economic recovery. Investing in digital inclusion is vital for us to build back as a nation. These recommendations show that we can achieve a 100% digitally included UK – but only if we all act together, urgently, to fix the digital divide – before the most vulnerable people in our society are left even further behind. 

And Institute of Learning Work Chief Executive, Stephen Evans said: “‘The pandemic has shown how vital digital skills are for both life and work. Yet too many adults and children don’t have the devices, connectivity, or digital skills they need. That risks limiting our ability to recover from the pandemic and locked out of future opportunities. We urgently need to tackle the digital divide.’


Notes to desks –

 77% of the over 70s have very low digital engagement, and have a lower participation rate in the education system.


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