(2)The Government should ensure that using digital technology to tackle existing inequalities is a key strand running through its new hybrid strategy. It should also publish a detailed equality impact assessment alongside its strategy, explaining the effect of its plans on different communities and how it will mitigate any negative consequences identified.
(3)We urge the Government to consider introducing a legal right to internet access and digital infrastructure, which is regulated in a way that gives individuals a suitable right to redress.
(4)The Government should work with internet providers to develop a scheme to provide affordable internet, and suitable, safe devices (not necessarily just a smartphone), on which to use it, to those in poverty and on low incomes.
(5)The Government must make a commitment (and an ambitious target) to improve digital literacy central to its new hybrid strategy, and work with charities, skills providers and local authorities to deliver a comprehensive digital skills programme.
(6)The Government should put investment in digital skills at the heart of its new hybrid strategy and ensure that both the school curriculum and adult skills provision adequately meets the needs of the hybrid world. One element of this should be the development of a new Digital Skills for Work Framework for England (and ideally in agreement with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), to tackle the radically altered employment landscape resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Framework must consider the different requirements of different communities and include specific action to tackle the low levels of digital skills amongst disabled people.
(7)The Government should work with training providers and professional bodies to ensure that both the initial training of workers such as teachers and medical professionals and their Continuing Professional Development reflects how digital technology will be an integral part of their working lives.
(8)The Government should work with UK Research Councils and Higher Education funding bodies to identify and address gaps in the evidence base for both how our increasingly hybrid world is impacting on different communities, and on the effectiveness of policies and interventions developed in response to the digital future. The lack of data on Black and Asian communities’ experiences, alongside those of other minority ethnic communities, should be a particular priority.
(9)The Government should ensure that the processes in place to develop, test and evaluate digital health interventions are as robust as those used for physical health interventions. No response received
(10)In its hybrid strategy, the Government must commit to listening to the views and experiences of communities and working with them to discuss, develop and implement solutions that meet their needs. No response received
(11)As part of its new hybrid strategy, the Government should commit to reviewing the resilience of the UK’s digital infrastructure every two years and to report to Parliament on this review and the action being taken to ensure it is adequately robust for the hybrid world.
(12)We do not underestimate the complexity of digital regulation and digital rights, but believe that these issues, including digital rights, must be considered by the Government in developing its hybrid strategy.
(13)We welcome the Government’s commitment to publishing an Online Harms Bill and urge it to bring this legislation forward in the next session of Parliament. It will need to reflect the central role that the internet plays in our education, work and social lives, and ensure that provisions are put in place to protect children and vulnerable people online which are at least as robust as those in place offline.
(14)The Government must commit to ensuring health professionals have the training and equipment needed to deliver digitally effective services in the most appropriate way.
(15)As part of its new hybrid strategy, the Government should work to develop a genuinely hybrid healthcare service. In implementing a hybrid healthcare service the Government should work with the NHS to evaluate what treatments are suitable to be offered digitally, and provide further funding to research new digital interventions for those specialisms that currently cannot be provided remotely. The Government should also work with the NHS to ensure that current, and future, healthcare systems and processes reflect the new hybrid reality, including the importance of face-to-face provision, and enable patients to move seamlessly between online and offline service provision.
(16)The digitally hybrid healthcare service in England should be underpinned by a code of practice giving patients the right to receive services online or offline, as well as guaranteeing a minimum service standard for both online and offline healthcare services, including a right to contact their doctor digitally. In developing this code of practice, the Government should undertake a review of patients’ rights in hybrid healthcare provision, including its impact on accessibility, privacy and the triage between face-to-face and digital provision.
(17)The Government must prioritise mitigating the long-term impact of the prolonged period of disrupted learning on children’s life-chances and wellbeing. This should include undertaking research to understand the very different experiences of children from different communities, ensuring that specific funding and support is available to address the growing attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils, and establishing a support programme focused on the wellbeing of children and young people post-pandemic. The Government must also recognise the impact that a lack of space to work from home has had on children’s learning, and ensure that this is recognised in their ‘catch-up’ plans for pupils. No response received
(18)The Government should work with local authorities and schools to fund a specific support programme to ensure that all children have an adequate internet connection and suitable digital devices to work effectively online from home. It must also provide funding to ensure that teachers and schools can make the most of the benefits that an increasing role for online learning offers. The Government should ensure that the curriculum reflects the increasing need for digital skills and provides all children and young people with the skills needed for our hybrid world. No response received
(19)The Government should work with employers and trade unions to ensure that decisions about job locations are equality impact assessed, so that people are not excluded from employment opportunities because of their living situation. No response received
(20)The Government should work with disabled people’s organisations to develop a campaign to increase awareness of the Access to Work scheme amongst both employers and disabled people, and ensure that Access to Work assessors have the skills and knowledge required to offer the most appropriate solutions for increasingly digitalised workplaces.
(21)The Government should introduce new legislation to provide platform workers with defined and enhanced employment rights. No response received
(22)We believe that, alongside its new hybrid strategy, the Government should consult on strengthening the current legislative framework for employment rights, to ensure it is suitable for the digital age (including consideration of a right to switchoff, responsibilities for meeting the costs of remote working, rights for platform workers, the use of workplace monitoring and surveillance, and giving workers a right to access data about their performance). No response received
(23)As part of its post-pandemic recovery plans, the UK Government should bring together elements of the Future High Streets Fund, Towns Fund, and additional funding, to specifically protect the future of physical and communal spaces, such as libraries and neighbourhood centres, in villages, towns and cities in England. Local authorities should also be encouraged to use this funding to trial new types of community infrastructure, including digital infrastructure, such as the remote working ‘hubs’ mentioned in Chapter 5. Such remote working hubs could also be used to provide space for the community, for local clubs and societies, regular community events and adult learning classes. No response received
(24)In developing its new hybrid strategy, the UK Government should ensure that it interacts with, and complements, its existing Loneliness Strategy for England.