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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

The Challenge

New technology and the internet provide the foundation of how we live, learn and work. Much of our daily lives can now be made possible, and some would say easier, through the internet: managing our finances, attending classes, finding love, doing our jobs, looking for somewhere to live, ordering shopping, reading the news, speaking to friends, and even having a consultation with a GP. Digital has the potential to make our worlds bigger. 

The acceleration of these changes was in response to a global pandemic: digital was our lifeline, we used it to build a new way of life. Four years later, this new way of life has become the status quo. A lot has already changed, and further change is certain. We are on a journey, and we need to make sure that no one is left behind.  

Digital divides in the UK present multi-layered problems. Without access, or with limited access, to the internet, people are economically disadvantaged: they are paying more, on average, for goods and services, they have reduced access to employment opportunities and their financial confidence and ability to manage money is impacted. 

Being excluded from the online world means being excluded from public services. Digital-first options often present barriers to people that require those services most. In some cases, there are no non-digital alternatives. High streets are emptying of retailers and banks, meaning limited access and choice for people that don’t use the internet.  

But being digitally excluded is so much more than our money and services. In our increasingly connected world, this is where we come together with friends and family and interact socially. It’s also where we learn new skills, develop new hobbies, stimulate our brains and understand the world around us. The digital divide locks people out. 

Why it’s everyone’s responsibility 

Engaging online should always be a choice – but some people don’t have that choice.  

We believe this inequality is unacceptable and there is still a great deal of work to do to create an infrastructure that acts as a safety net for those who are digitally excluded.   

We recognise that digital inclusion is complex and multi-faceted, it has traditionally been seen as a luxury or a personal responsibility. We don’t think this is the case - digital is an essential part of modern life. 

Whilst it has huge personal benefits for those included, it creates multiple benefits across our public, private and voluntary sectors. For example, making cost-savings on delivery, widening reach, growing a customer base or delivering services more flexibly are all possible thanks to the digital world. As we reap these benefits and change how we live and work, we contribute to the acceleration of digital. If we all benefit, we all need to take a share in the responsibility for what we’re creating. Digital inclusion is therefore everyone’s responsibility. 

This sentiment is echoed in the report on the National Digital Ethics Public Panel.1 The Panel developed three ‘Statements of Expectations’ in relation to digital inclusion in an ethical digital Scotland:  

  1. Ensuring fair and equitable access to affordable digital technology and data; 
  1. Removing barriers so that all of the population, including those who are not already digitally engaged, recognise the benefits of becoming so, and are able to access skills development opportunities that will enable them to participate online safely, productively, and with confidence;  
  1. Ensuring that those who are not digitally skilled (or choose not to engage digitally) are still able to access services that are provided as ‘digital by default’ without being disadvantaged. 

Across the three Statements of Expectation, the panel attributed a range of responsibility across government and government bodies, businesses, society and civil society organisations, and individuals.  

Purpose of this document

This document is a starting point. It is the beginning of a post-pandemic roadmap to define where we’re at, where we need to go and the high level actions we need to take towards significantly reducing digital exclusion in Scotland. 

Our vision and framework for action is based upon a wide range of research and learning produced by partner organisations, as well as our reflections on more than a decade of leading the movement to tackle digital exclusion in Scotland. It also builds on the feedback from stakeholders and front-line workers during the #connect23 series of events we ran in summer 2023. 

We all know that no single organisation can tackle digital exclusion alone. We need everyone to make a commitment – big or small – to address the challenge. We hope that the high-level actions set out as part of this roadmap can be built upon and expanded as organisations from across the public, private and voluntary sectors join us on the journey. 

Last modified on 23 November 2023
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