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We live in an ever-evolving digital world where public services, including banking, job applications, benefits, and tax credits, are increasingly digitised. Therefore, digital skills, equipment and reliable connectivity are a necessity for participation in society, including education and employment.

Despite this, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated that 4.2 million UK citizens (7.8% of UK Adults) had never used the internet, or last used it more than three months ago (2020). In addition:

  • 6.3% of the UK adult population are not regularly using the internet and associated devices
  • 21% of UK adults do not have the essential digital skills needed for day-to-day life according to the Lloyds’ Consumer Digital Index
  • an estimated 8.7 million employed people have essential digital skills for life, but not for work

The UK government’s 2014 Digital Inclusion Strategy defined success as “by 2020 everyone who can be digitally capable, will be“. However, in 2022, digital exclusion is still evident within our communities. The challenge is to equip everybody with the essential skills to ensure they are able to participate in society and to close the digital divide. For example, the most common productivity software skills requested by UK employers are within the Microsoft Office suite – Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Digital exclusion is a major problem for the elderly, disabled persons and those without the financial power to get online. Digital exclusion is also inextricably linked to wider societal inequalities. As a nation, we need to equip the whole country with the skills, motivation and trust to go online, be digitally capable and make the most of the internet.

 

COVID-19, Children and Households

 

For the past four years, the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research (CCHPR) at the University of Cambridge has completed research which highlights that digital exclusion is not just a generational issue.

Around 4.3 million children in the UK were living in poverty as of March 2020. This is an increase of around 700,000 or 3.7 percentage points from March 2012. When the COVID-19 outbreak began, OFCOM reported that 25% of vulnerable children struggled with device access for remote learning. Disadvantaged young people and children living in poverty have been severely impacted by COVID-19 and the consequences of that could affect them for years to come.

Although several authorities and central government tried to combat this, even introducing the £100 million package to fund laptops and 4G wireless routers, this was not enough. The package was aimed at vulnerable pupils, care leavers and disadvantaged year 10s. However, only 200,000 devices and 50,000 routers were available and it’s estimated by the Children’s Commissioner that 1.34 million children in need of help did not receive it.

In addition, the ONS explored the digital divide and revealed that 2m households struggle to afford internet access. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, only 51% of households earning between £6,000 to £10,000 had home internet access, compared to 99% of households with an income of over £40,001. It’s highly unlikely that households without internet access could afford it. 1.5 million households (5%) in the UK currently only have access to a mobile internet connection at home. Furthermore, the households in the lower bracket that could access the equipment and internet were less likely to have the skills to utilise it.

Ofcom data from April 2021 seems to suggest the proportion of UK homes without internet fell from 11% to 6%. This includes 6% of all 5 to 15-year-olds without fixed broadband access in their home. Although some households would’ve purchased internet services during the pandemic, there are several benefits to supporting them to use it going forward; the most common being:

  • Information gathering, knowledge sharing and learning
  • Location and contact information
  • Online banking services and better shopping experiences
  • Entertainment – movies, videos, games and music.

As well as ensuring that internet access is affordable, citizens need to be equipped with the skills to utilise it and reap the rewards, so we must encourage its use. Ofcom also found that 60% of people not using the internet at home have asked someone to do something for them online in the past year, most commonly needing help completing an online purchase.

Good Things Foundation estimate that people with limited internet access are 4x more likely to be from low-income households and 8x more likely to be 65+. The reasons they are not online are that it’s too expensive or they don’t have the right equipment, while:

  • 42% either aren’t interested or cannot see the need for internet access.
  • 46% say it’s too complicated.
  • 1.3m are worried about privacy and security.

Tackling the digital divide by ensuring everyone has the equipment and skills is vital to improving communities across the country.

Digital Skills

 

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports’ ‘No Longer Optional’ report found digital skills have become near-universal requirements for employment, with digital skills now an essential entry requirement for two-thirds of occupations which account for 82% of online job vacancies.

Despite this, a large proportion of the population continues to lack basic digital skills.

  • An estimated 11.7 million (22%) people in the UK are without the digital skills needed for everyday life.
  • 9 million (16%) are unable to use the internet and their device by themselves.
  • 3.6 million (7%) are almost completely offline.

Basic digital literacy skills are needed by everybody to become ‘digitally literate’ and to effectively participate in this increasingly digital society. It’s estimated the UK benefits by almost £15 for every £1 invested in helping people acquire basic digital skills and the latest Consumer Digital Index also shows that without any intervention, by 2030, 25% of the UK will still have a very low level of digital engagement.

It’s clear that closing the digital divide makes social and financial sense. However, further support is needed to help local authorities solve the challenge of digital exclusion and ensure that public funds are spent in the right places, on the right people, and in the right ways.

To find out how Cantium can support your local authority with tackling digital exclusion, get in touch with our digital experts.