Written evidence Professor Helen Margetts OBE (LBC0304)


Re: Long-term consequences of Covid-19

Building digital resilience


As with every existential crisis, the pandemic has brought rising inequality, wiping out ten years of progress in reducing economic inequality. Poor workers have become poorer, extreme poverty has risen, inequality between countries has increased. Meanwhile, the rich have become richer; the 10 richest billionaires in the world increased their wealth by $319 billion in 2020 alone (Financial Times, 31 Dec 2020). Social inequality is also rising. Pandemic-related policy measures affected differentially the educational opportunities of children from different socio-economic groups; men and women; young and old. Health and social care and health outcomes vary across demographic groups.


Digital, data-intensive technologies have saved us from the worst effects of pandemic-related policy measures. They made it possible for us to work, socialise, educate and entertain ourselves, shop and manage all aspects of our daily lives online. Digital services have been, literally, the lifeline of society. The pandemic has been a generator of innovation, in public as well as private services.


But as the Committee has reported extensively, digital inequality has been an important intermediary variable in rising economic and social inequality during the pandemic. It exacerbated differences in the extent to which poorer groups accessed vital services such as education and healthcare during lock-downs and other social distancing measures. Inequalities in digital literacy appear to have shaped people’s knowledge and understanding of the pandemic and their vulnerability to online harm through misinformation (eg Vidgen et al, 2021; Roozenbeek, 2020). Digital exclusion has reinforced social exclusion and loneliness. Lack of internet access had limited some people’s ability to travel or access even the most basic legal services. The shift to home or hybrid working has injected new impetus to inequality – between those who have the kind of jobs where they can work remotely – and the homes and technological needed to do that - and those who do not. Because most low-paid jobs can’t be done at home, low paid workers have experienced the greatest risks from the virus, the greatest labour market insecurity and the least wage inflation.


To mitigate these deepening inequalities, digital data-intensive technologies should be centre stage in reform. Digital inequality requires digital resilience, in order to recover from the effects of the pandemic and to build the foundations of readiness for the next existential crisis. Key policy areas to address are:






6 September 2021