Bridging the gap: How connectivity can help tackle social inequalities
Head of Brand, Content and Creative
Virgin Media O2 Business
26th April 2022
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Digital access and skills are essential to enabling people to fully participate in our increasingly technology-dependent society.
Whilst digital progress leapt forward by an average of three years during the pandemic according to our study with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), we need to equip more people with the tools and skills they need to not just survive but thrive online — and open up the UK to the benefits of digital inclusion.
Community through connectivity
Several important initiatives to tackle digital exclusion are already in action, such as the National Databank. Launched in July 2021 by Virgin Media O2 and Good Things Foundation, it provides free mobile data to those who need it.
Other groups and local initiatives across the UK are also making an impact, with schemes that invite people, businesses and other organisations to donate old laptops and other electronic devices to be refurbished and distributed to locals in need. Free basic skills programmes are available to help people with no online experience take their first steps into the digital world at their local library or community centre.
Challenging geographic digital divides
At a wider level, digital exclusion is often a geographic issue that requires a collaborative solution on a much larger regional scale. We’ve already seen several public and private partnerships tackling challenges around connectivity, accessibility, affordability, skills, and motivation through a series of programmes and community initiatives.
“The COVID-19 crisis has reinforced that a good digital connection is essential. Councils recognise the importance of world-class mobile and fixed line connectivity and have partnered with the telecommunication's industry to extend high speed mobile and full-fibre broadband to the hardest to reach areas.”
One example of this is the Tackling digital inequality in Greater Manchester report. Published by Virgin Media Business in partnership with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), it offers an update on the positive impact the business has achieved in Greater Manchester through its social value programme, as well as its ambitious plans for the next four years.
Virgin Media Business’ social value programme began in 2020 with the rollout of the UK’s largest Local Full Fibre Networks Programme (LFFN) across Greater Manchester.
The programme included a number of bold investments in social value initiatives that supported Greater Manchester’s Digital Blueprint, including a commitment from Virgin Media Business to directly create 20 apprenticeships based in Greater Manchester, as well as investing in digital and STEM skills for young people.
During the height of lockdown, Virgin Media Business supported the Greater Manchester Technology Fund, with a donation providing 567 school children with digital kit bundles to ensure students in Greater Manchester at risk of digital exclusion could continue learning when schools were closed.
The partnership with GMCA has created new job opportunities and supported the community with digital skills programmes. More than 80% of the current LFFN workforce is from the Greater Manchester area, outperforming the initial local employment rate target of 50%, and Virgin Media Business has funded three digital skills programmes with the Prince’s Trust and GMCA.
This collaboration between large public sector bodies, individual local authorities, private companies, charities, and countless hyper-local community organisations has created a blueprint for bringing connectivity to communities where digital exclusion has been deeply entrenched and had a profound impact on people’s lives.
More access to work for more people
Our Cebr research found that enabling hybrid working — i.e. a mix of remote and office-based work – can be a socially inclusive policy that could pave the way for 3.8 million more people to enter the UK workforce.
“For parents and carers, flexible working can bring greater than average labour market opportunities.”
3.8 million people who were ‘locked out’ of the traditional working world for a variety of reasons. Parents, carers, those with disabilities. People who couldn’t feasibly fit into the rigid routine of being at a certain desk in a certain building at a certain time every day. Thanks to hybrid working, however, they’re not locked out any more and that gap to attaining employment is shrinking.
As well as helping 3.8 million more people into jobs, hybrid working could also see a massive boost in the number of hours part-time employees are able to do.
43% of part-time workers (3.7 million people) would increase their hours if their employer allowed remote working, according to our research. That’s a collective 1.27 billion more working hours every year – the equivalent of an extra 631,000 full-time employees.
Doing good as well as doing business
At Virgin Media O2 Business, we’re committed to using connectivity to share more with society and help tackle the digital divide. We support local communities by donating free data plans to help Big Issue vendors become cashless, reconnect with family and access essential online services. We’re also sharing over 8 million GB of free data with people in need through the National Databank with the Good Things Foundation.
That said, we know there’s more to do, so we’re working on some exciting plans – watch this space.
To find out more about how we can help your organisation create social value, understand the impact of your digital transformation, or help to achieve your own sustainability goals, please don’t hesitate to contact us.