What is digital exclusion and how does it affect people in the UK?

Digital exclusion affects millions in the UK who are unable to access the internet. In this explainer, it will dive into this issue and the things currently being done to get the digitally excluded online.

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Many people lack internet access at home in the United Kingdom, which leaves them vulnerable to being digitally excluded from society.

Nearly two million households in the UK have no internet access and are reliant on using pay-as-you-go services to access educational, healthcare and banking resources online.

This issue is not new and goes back to the 1970s, when information and communication technologies (ICT) first emerged in that decade. Fast-forward to the 2020s and many people remain digitally excluded in the UK.

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Digital exclusion is a form of social inequality which affects both individuals and households who lack access to the internet.

Those who are digitally excluded are likely to have no home internet access through a computer or on mobile devices, making it hard for themselves to participate in society.

There are many reasons why an individual or household is most likely to be digitally excluded, but it could be down to the following:

· Cannot afford the infrastructure to get online.

· Lack digital skills to use the internet.

· An individual is not interested in engaging in the online world.

In this digital world we live in, people who are digitally excluded are invisible and unheard, making it hard for that group to engage with other members of society.

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There are many reasons why millions of people in the UK are unable to access the internet. When it comes to why an individual is likely to be digitally excluded, it comes down to these main factors:

· Access

· Motivation

· Skills.

Having the right infrastructure to get online (laptop, broadband, and tablet) is a crucial part of accessing the internet for someone who is living in digital exclusion.

Not only is there a physical aspect to accessing the internet, but a financial one too.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge found that more than half of households who earn between £6,000-£10,000 have home internet access compared with 99% of households who have an income of over £40,001.

If you’re poor, then you are likely to have less chance of being able to get online.

Motivation is a barrier many people face when accessing the internet for the first time due to a lack of understanding of the benefits that the internet can bring.

In Lloyds Bank’s 2020 Consumer Digital Index report, a lack of interest in using the internet was identified one of the biggest barriers in getting the digitally excluded online. The report found that apathy towards the internet is prevalent towards the over-60 age category.

Having limited access to the internet can affect the life chances of so many people, which can lead to:

· Paying more for basic essentials (energy, and food bills)

· Higher risk of both falling into poverty and financial exclusion

· Loss of access to jobs and educational opportunities

Digital skills have become essential for so many businesses. In the UK, 13.6 million workers have digital life skills, but lack the digital work skills which are necessary for employees to do their jobs.

According to a government report, digital skills are required in 82% of job roles. The report also noted that having specific digital skills can reduce the risk of automation by nearly 60%, which can help promote career progression for workers.

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Digital exclusion can be misunderstood because it is assumed that older people tend to have limited internet access than other social groups in the UK.

Children are just as likely to be digitally excluded than the over-75s group. According to the Children’s Commissioner, an estimated 9% of families in the UK lacked access to internet devices during the first national lockdown for the coronavirus pandemic.

For children, having access to a device such as a laptop or tablet along with a good internet connection can help them stay up-to-date with their school work remotely, as well as keeping in touch with friends and other family members.

Other social groups who are likely to be digitally excluded in the UK includes:

· People with disabilities

· People on low incomes

· People who live in social housing

· People who have few educational qualifications or left school before they were 16.

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During coronavirus, there have been initiatives launched from councils, charities and organisations to help the digitally excluded get on the internet.

In Liverpool, more than 100 people in long-term unemployment were given computers and digital skills training to help them get back into work.

Meanwhile, O2 and environmental charity Hubbub are working together to donate 2,000 devices and give 12 months of free data to vulnerable people who are digitally excluded in Manchester.

Gavin Ellis, Director and Founder at Hubbub said:

It’s been heart-warming to see the positive impact receiving a smartphone through the Community Calling project has already had on so many people’s lives.

“Being connected to loved ones and accessing essential services is easily taken for granted, but is still not a reality for too many people.

Vodafone have been providing free internet access to 250,000 schoolchildren in the UK with a 30GB data SIM, helping pupils access educational resources from home.

BT are helping the digitally excluded develop their personal and professional digital skills with free online courses through the Skills for Tomorrow programme.

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While there has been progress made to get the digitally excluded online, millions are still unable to access the internet.

The Good Things Foundation has called for the UK government to invest £130m over four years to help people who are still living in digital exclusion get online.

Helen Milner OBE, Chief Executive of the Good Things Foundation said:

It’s absolutely critical that everyone — especially those most vulnerable in the pandemic — has the digital access, skills and support they need to live.

“Digital has been a lifeline for all of us during lockdown. People who are locked out of digital are facing impossible challenges.

“We’re ready to work with the Government to invest in our national future. Let’s be world-leaders in digital inclusion — make digital inclusion an economic priority, and act now to fix this together. A Great Digital Catch Up leaves nobody behind.

Post-coronavirus, it will be crucial to get more households and individuals who are digitally excluded get online as the modern world is becoming increasingly digital.

Data Journalist specialising in technology & investigations. Rock n’ roll enthusiast, recovering gamer & fitness addict.