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Report of the Digital Government Review

Ensuring Everyone Enjoys the Power of Digital

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Introduction: the unique role of the public sector

We are living through a period of great change. A post-industrial economy is taking shape; the shift to a services economy is flattening out old, hierarchical command and control structures; digital technology is unseating whole industries and workforces.

Technology shapes what we do and who we are as never before. From work and leisure to the most intimate moments in our lives, it has opened up wonderful possibilities (such as seeing a remote relative or accessing the world’s libraries and art museums), made it easier to start new businesses, changed the way we work and altered our expectations of government.

A recent BT-commissioned report attempted to quantify the benefit to individuals of being online. The report estimated these benefits to average £1,064 per annum for a new user


Yet 20% of the UK population, 10.5 million people, lack basic online skills. 69% of these people are in socioeconomic group C2DE [2] while 80% of government interactions are with the poorest 25% of the UK population.

These may seem dry numbers, but if we fail to understand these facts and target the same services towards everyone – rather than addressing the unique circumstances of the substantial excluded population – we risk widening inequality in our society.

This exclusion also echoes a second unpalatable fact. We are living in times when recession and austerity measures have hit some of our citizens harder than others – and when nine out of the ten poorest regions in Northern Europe are in the UK [3].

Here, the public sector has a unique role in delivering what the private sector cannot. It cannot choose its market, nor can most of its ‘users’ choose whether to interact with the public sector. People without basic online skills include a large proportion of the citizens that government interacts with most. And these interactions entail some of the most complex and knotty of public services, like social care, housing or helping people move into paid work.

Addressing these facts demands a sophisticated sense of where the greatest needs and opportunities lie, and how these can be firmly focused on helping citizens rather than simply making processes more efficient for government.

“Often the process is too complex or the language cannot be understood. There is not enough user engagement in the design, build and implementation of online services from a broad range of able, disabled and elderly users” – Individual

[1]           Valuing Digital Inclusion: calculating the social value to individuals of getting online, Just Economics for BT, June 2014. At
[2]           These figures are from BT’s report published in Nov 14. Other sections of the report use other estimates, we will come back to the need for stronger research later in this chapter

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