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A human rights approach to digital inclusion

It’s Human Rights Day! But what does that mean and what does that have to do with digital inclusion?


Human rights, in a nutshell, are the freedoms and opportunities you have simply because you exist. This includes the right to education, the right to be free from prejudice and discrimination, and the right to clean, fresh water. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) were established in 1948 to describe every human being’s human rights. Sometimes, human rights can be in conflict, and sometimes people have their rights taken away from them by law (like prisoners being denied freedoms for example), so it’s not always straightforward. However, what is clear is that the 30 human rights outlined in the UDHR have been chosen as human rights because they are all essential elements of living a life of freedom.


A person holding a cardboard sign with 'human rights' written in black paint

At Better ConNEcted, we believe that human rights and digital inclusion are fundamentally intertwined. In the UK, it is almost impossible to get by without the internet. Social distancing, lockdowns, and restrictions due to COVID-19 meant that those without digital access or who rely on other means of communication and receiving information were cut off from their usual sources such as community groups, charities, and libraries. The UK Government are moving towards a digital by default approach in all its services. This means you must apply for benefits, do your self-assessment tax returns, and manage asylum claims online. It is almost impossible to get work without the internet. We must job search online, apply through sites like Indeed, have a digital CV, and be able to perform digital tasks for the role. Not only that, but we are also sometimes expected to use our own devices or wireless networks for our jobs. Even in healthcare, we must be digitally included to order prescriptions, book GP appointments, or even be seen by a medical professional quickly. It is a changing world and people are being asked to adapt and keep up with very limited support.


There are seen to be 3 different levels of the digital divide:


Level 1 is whether people have access to devices and the internet. Do they have a good connection? Can they afford adequate data for their needs?


Level 2 highlights the need for digital skills. You can give someone a laptop and a broadband contract, but that doesn’t mean they can log in and take part in a zoom meeting. We need skills and confidence to be able to perform basic tasks like browsing the internet, booking appointments and using a word processor. But even still, skills and connectivity are not enough to enable people to thrive.


Level 3 of the digital divide explores ‘digital capital’. What capability does a person have to use their digital skills to their advantage? Are they able to add new skills on to the ones they have? Can they turn their digital capital into economic capital by getting a job, or opening up an online shop, or maybe becoming a social media influencer? Can they turn their digital capital into social capital by connecting with new communities and expanding their networks? Basic digital skills aren’t enough to do these things. People need confidence. They need accessibility functions to be in place and usable. They need their skills to be more specialised.


Two women help each other to use a laptop at a desk in a co-working space

All 3 levels are crucial if we are to succeed in helping more people to experience stable digital inclusion. All are necessary if we are truly to enable people to access and enjoy their human rights in the digital age.


Let’s help people enjoy their human rights by supporting them to be better connected. Get involved with our campaign by emailing betterconnectedne@gmail.com. Or sign up to our mailing list by visiting www.betterconnected.org.uk.

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