Today’s technology has the potential to help create a fairer, more inclusive, and prosperous UK. Applied responsibly, it can create services that respond to individual needs, improve social cohesion, and drive economic growth.
For the majority of the UK population, the COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated this technology adoption, underpinned by the country’s IT infrastructure. However, this experience has not been universal and we are witnessing an increasing divide between those who are ready to reap the rewards of digital future and those who worry about being left behind.
The UK's digital divide is not created solely by those who do not use the internet at all. Digital exclusion arises from a combination of the lack of access to technology and the confidence to use it.
Tackling technology exclusion
Three percent of respondents told us that they do not use the internet at all. While it's encouraging that 97% do, that 3% would still represent around 1.65 million adults.
Additionally, 5% do not have broadband access and 9% do not have a laptop or desktop computer in their homes. While they may have access to other devices and slower internet speeds, these are key tools for making productive use of the internet and being an active participant in the digital economy, through remote working, online learning and other similar activities.
Technology exclusion disproportionately affects certain groups. People with household incomes below £20,000 (23%), over 55s (15%) and those without a university education (17%) are more likely than average (11%) to report technological exclusion. Not only could this lack of access make it difficult to play a role in the digital economy, but it could also present challenges for accessing vital public services.
The demographics of technology exclusion
Improving digital skills and confidence
The pace of technological change has a direct impact on digital confidence. Our polling has identified two major schools of thought - one group sees technology as an enabler, the other sees it as a challenge.
Many feel like the pace of technology change is leaving them behind, as 40% say they are generally less confident doing things online than in person. Additionally, 6% told us that they were not confident with a minimum of 4 out of the 5 skills from the Digital Skills Framework – communicating, handling information and content, transacting, problem solving, being safe and legal online. As initiatives look to expand access to digital tools, it is important that people feel confident and capable to make use of these new opportunities.
As with technology exclusion, our research found that skills exclusion was impacting some communities more than others. Those from households with incomes of less than £20,000 (8%), over-55s (15%) and people without a university education (9%) were more likely than average (6%) to report that they lacked the digital skills they needed for everyday life. Closing this divide could be key to ensuring the country as a whole benefits from an increasingly digital economy.
The demographics of skills exclusion
Future for public services
The public services of the future should seamlessly integrate into peoples’ lives and deliver sustainable value for citizens.
This could manifest in a range of ways. Tax assessment and payments could connect with open banking to make the process more efficient for all. Benefit eligibility could be automated to ensure that payments are made as soon as someone is entitled to them. And healthcare providers might help keep people healthy with predictive and preventative interventions based on data.
Digital channels could play a major role in creating this seamless experience. But what about those people who are digitally excluded?
A seamless, digitally-enabled experience could still support these people. One approach could be to build on existing infrastructure and physical touchpoints with government services to convey the benefits of digital integration. Alternatively, employers, who already pay tax on employees behalf, could help connect their people to more government services and systems.