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A digital world for all?: Findings from a programme of digital inclusion for vulnerable young people across the UK

Digital exclusion is a persistent challenge. Although the digital divide may be reducing in terms of the number of people who are not digitally engaged, for those who remain excluded the divide is deepening. This compounds existing inequalities and disadvantages.

In the eyes of many, the terms ‘digital’ and ‘young people’ have become synonymous. The ‘natural’ ability of young people to access and use technology in an innately superior way to that of older generations is often taken as fact. This has given rise to the assumption that young people are ‘digital natives’. The evidence does not, however, support this narrative.

Young people are not digital natives, indeed not all young people possess even basic digital skills. Digital literacy is actively and passively developed through ongoing access, support and training. Whilst these opportunities are abundant for many young people, there are as many as 300,000 young people in the UK who still lack these basic digital skills.

Those who are vulnerable, particularly those at points of transition in their life (unemployed, homeless, in care, in secure accommodation, excluded from mainstream education, seeking asylum) are most at risk of slipping through the net and falling outside the digital mainstream. Yet attention on the issues of digital skills, specifically for vulnerable young people, has been limited to date.

We believe that no young person should experience digital exclusion. All young people should have the digital skills and literacy to both take advantage of the benefits and navigate the risks that digital world can offer. We want the conversation to move past the skills deficits of specific young people, and onto a narrative around creating a society and context in which all young people can thrive online.

In 2015, the Carnegie UK Trust launched #NotWithoutMe to develop evidence and test innovative engagement techniques to improve digital skills and literacy among vulnerable young people across the UK. Whilst our longterm goal is optimistic, our objective for this programme was far more reserved. Rather than expect transformational outcomes of success for the young people involved, such as gaining employment or further education, we wanted to understand the process of designing and delivering ‘digital inclusion’ projects with different vulnerable groups. The following report details the main aspects of the #NotWithoutMe
programme, key learnings and resulting recommendations for practitioners, policymakers and academics.