Is digital access a basic human right?

A question that has been playing over in my mind for a fair old while has been if basic digital access is becoming a human right in the UK. I hear lots of talk and consideration about the digital divide in the UK but maybe one way to bridge this gap would be to consider making access to digital tools a legal right for all.

This is not to undermine the nature of the need for wider aspects for basic human rights globally -  but there are often confused and overlooked aspects when considering the basic rights of humans in terms of cultures, society etc. I’ve done a little work on that in my current (and never-ending degree) I’ll write about that soon I think.

But how on earth can we create a fair, capable, informed and equitable society (well, as much as possible) if large swathes of our population may have access to digital tools but no access to knowledge and support? We also cannot completely lay the responsibility at the door of the education system – for heaven’s sake they are having to deal with every, single aspect of a family group and the inherent issues and challenges that brings.

3.7 million children in the UK (the fifth richest economy in the world) live below the poverty line, putting aside the fact that is frankly appalling for a so-called society, we are in effect creating the conditions for a knowledge and capability gap in the future. We are also increasing the chasm between the haves and have nots - with the potential for all kinds of societal issues and upheaval in future.

And by basic digital access – I don’t mean give everyone a mobile phone (although that could be one angle), but provide them with access, tools and support to using and benefiting from digital – from being able to communicate to educate and develop.

As an aside - I have heard evidence from schools that because of peer pressure (driven by social media) and the digitalisation of so many public services families spend money on mobile phones and contracts rather than food. Before you get an idea or even make a judgement in your mind of what type of person would do such a thing – think about that for a minute – one way or another that is not right.

Either way, we can’t allow people’s only access and exposure to digital to be social media and YouTube or being forced to use digital services – we need to open people’s eyes to what is possible, we need to enable children to really understand the potential that being able to fully understand what digital provides – from the beauty of some digital creations to the emotions stirred by digital storytelling.

Within the digital industry we can do more – yep we must make money, not least to pay taxes to support the state - but how about taking some risks with youngsters and families who have limited digital exposure and access?  Bring them into our offices, go out and see them, invest in tools and time to educate them – don’t ask for anything back, just do it. In the current climate as a society - now more than ever - we need to open our minds and ourselves to pulling and working together.

We should create real ethical commitments to society, we are a huge industry – probably the biggest in the world. By commitments I don’t mean ensuring that graduates are well supported or having relationships with universities but by going into communities – and getting knocked back, ignored, ridiculed by those we are trying to help – but persevering and focusing on the potential opportunities we are creating and providing for all.

Also, from a purely commercial perspective (which is always at the forefront of our minds) committing to linking ethical drivers (in terms of digital access equanimity and community support) to commercial imperatives - organisations create environments for innovative growth, pipelines of staff, goodwill and awareness start to grow – all good for the bottom line. 

Never mind social mobility – I’m talking about digital mobility. Using digital to provide the best opportunities to succeed – and therefore become more mobile/capable/attractive in the workplace. To support and enable what I think as I’ve written this piece – digital access is a basic human right in the UK - therefore, we need to start taking the problem seriously and taking some chances on those that need our help.

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