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So here we are, 2022.

As the year begins, we find ourselves adhering to the UK government’s Omicron strategy. We’ve reduced our social contact once again, increased our home working, mask wearing, and testing. Consequently, many of us have ramped up our digital usage. We’re clocking hours of screen time as our lives go back online.

Yet for around 10 million adults in the UK, being able to turn on a digital device or connect to the internet remains a difficult task. These people cannot get online independently, making it near-enough impossible for them to engage in work-related activities, access public services, and connect to family and friends. These digital skills are essential. And they’re not just essential for the individual, but for the UK economy as well.

In 2018, Good Things Foundation wrote about the economic impact of digital inclusion in the UK. Our report summarised the cumulative benefits of supporting individuals to learn basic digital skills by 2028. The results were startling.

Take earnings benefits: learning basic digital skills is expected to increase individual incomes, as people become more productive and are able to progress into roles that are more skill intensive. As we know, higher earnings impact National Insurance Contributions and income tax receipts that the government gains, all in all resulting – at the time of writing – in an estimated earnings benefit of £571m to the economy.

The report illustrated an equally impressive contribution by means of individuals entering employment. Digital upskilling can increase the likelihood of unemployed people, or those who are economically inactive, to enter the workforce – adding an estimated £313m to the UK economy, according to our 2018 findings.

Beyond work, there are multiple other benefits of digital upskilling for the economy. NHS savings, transaction benefits like online shopping, and additional expenditure on recreational and cultural activities to name a few. Investment is required, but the boost in tax receipts and NHS savings alone exceeds the amount of funding necessary.

However, the world – and the numbers – have changed since 2018. On the one hand, we have witnessed Brexit’s aftermath and experienced global supply chain crises. On the other, unjust racial and gender inequalities have been exposed and our climate action accelerated. Even now, the UK’s recent inflation jump will result in chaotic income disparities for people and families across the nation. All in all, we have experienced dramatic change worldwide.

On a macro- and micro-level we know it pays to be tech savvy. Digital skills can support people to save money, improve their earning power, and contribute millions to the economy. But just how much, we do not know. As we brace ourselves for a third pandemic year and society’s biggest digital transformation continues, now is the time to find out.

We need a refreshed economic case for digital upskilling, one that takes into account the political, social, economic, and environmental context of our time. With this information, we can make robust and reliable calculations for longer term investment and make strides towards economic prosperity in our modern world.

Hannah is currently Advocacy Manager at the Good Things Foundation. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: pexels]