Ofcom report highlights the marginalised groups who remain at risk of digital exclusion
Just six per cent of UK households now have no access to the internet, but it is margnalised groups such as the elderly, the most financially vulnerable and those living with disabilities such as visual impairment that are most at risk of digital exclusion.
Both the UK and Scottish governments have taken action to deal with digital exclusion in recent years. In 2020, for example, the Scottish Government unveiled its £5m Connecting Scotland programme, which aims to distribute laptops or tablets as well as training to people who are not currently online.
The UK Government, meanwhile, launched a £2.5m Digital Lifeline Fund last year to reduce the digital exclusion of people with learning disabilities.
In a report issued today, communications regulator Ofcom said that the number of people unable to access the internet has fallen sharply in recent years and was accelerated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic forcing many services to move online.
Ofcom’s research indicates that there are three main drivers for digital exclusion – lack of access, lack of skills or confidence, and affordability – and that the other groups most likely to be digitally excluded are people who do not work and those living on their own.
“When someone has more than one of these characteristics, the likelihood of their being digitally excluded increases further,” the report states.
“For those who were living alone with a condition that limited or impacted their use of communications services, 40 per cent said they didn’t use the internet or have access to it at home.
“Among those living alone who were also aged 70 and over, more than half said they didn’t use the internet or have access to the internet at home (53 per cent).
“This proportion rose to 60% for people who lived alone, were aged 70-plus and had an impacting or limiting condition.”
The report notes that the pandemic had a positive impact on digital inclusion because “as a huge proportion of everyday life moved online, more people decided it was time to get internet access at home”.
However, it adds that that puts everyone who remains unconnected at an even greater disadvantage.
“As the proportion of people without internet access declines, the negative impacts of remaining offline become more acute, as an increasing number of services and support networks become digital only,” it says.
The regulator said that the report highlights that digital exclusion is “a challenge to be tackled on three fronts”, by supporting people who want to get online, providing less-confident users with essential digital skills, and ensuring that those who remain offline are not left behind.