UK Digital Poverty Evidence Review 2022
What is digital poverty?
Digital poverty is the inability to interact with the online world fully, when, where, and how an individual needs to.
Why it matters
More than ever, not having access to the digital world means not having access to fundamentals of life. As a result, digital exclusion can exacerbate existing inequalities in society or introduce new inequalities. While the pandemic made us all more aware of the digital divide, it’s clear that more progress needs to be made to address digital poverty and its underlying causes.
What needs to be done
Five intertwined “determinants” of digital poverty must be addressed simultaneously to end digital poverty.
Devices and Connectivity
Around 1.7 million households are offline and one in five children who had been home schooling in 2021 did not have access to an appropriate device.1
As the gap between people who live in digital comfort and those who face digital disadvantage widens, we need to identify a minimum digital living standard that can adapt as our needs and the digital world change.
In 2020, roughly 96% of households in Britain had internet access.2 While internet access is important, simply getting everyone online is not enough.
Providing real access includes the accessibility of digital services, platforms, and technologies; online safety, creating technologies and spaces that are inclusive and welcoming for all; and the privacy of digital services and the spaces in which people can use them.
Around 11 million people in the UK lack the digital skills needed for everyday life, and 36% of the workforce lack Essential Digital Skills for Work. Moreover, only 74% of those who earn up to £13,500 per year have Essential Digital Skills for Life, compared to 95% of those who earn over £75,000.3
Closing the skills gap alone will not solve digital poverty. Having a supportive environment at home or at work, which involves positive role models and meets people where they are, is crucial. Developing data literacy will also be important for keeping people safe online and building trust in the digital world.
Sixty-nine percent of those without home internet access said that nothing would make them go online in the next year, and 47% reported the reason was that they were not interested or felt no need to use the internet.4
Tackling barriers like access and devices can help with this, alongside taking an inclusive design approach built around the experiences of disadvantaged and disinterested groups. There is a need to address the context in which people are encountering the digital world. Are they being forced into using digital? Do they understand and experience the benefits? And do they receive support?
Support and Participation
According to the Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital Index 2021, almost a fifth of those who reported they had not gone online in the last three months said “I want to but I don’t know where to get help”,5 and 49% of those who did not use the internet at home could be classed as “proxy users”, which means that they had asked someone else to do something for them online in the past year.6
Many people do not know about the support available, or the existing models of support do not suit their lifestyle or needs. Both formal and informal approaches to digital literacy are clearly needed. People also fall in and out of inclusion based on life circumstances and will need different kinds of support at different life stages as a result. It is essential to support the supporters that people rely on.
Principles for ending digital poverty
Based on the evidence, the Digital Poverty Alliance has developed five key principles for ending digital poverty once and for all. These will guide the creation of a National Delivery Plan, with specific recommendations for government, public, private and third sectors.
Digital is a basic right. Digital is now an essential utility – and access to it should be treated as such.
Accessing key public services online, like social security and healthcare, must be simple, safe, and meet all people’s needs.
Digital should fit into people’s lives, not be an additional burden – particularly for the most disadvantaged.
Digital skills should be fundamental to education and training throughout life. Support must be provided to trusted intermediaries who have a key role in providing access to digital.
There must be cross-sector efforts to provide free and open evidence on digital exclusion.
1 Ofcom. (2022). Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report 2022. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/234362/adults-media-use-and-attitudes-report-2022.pdf
2 Office for National Statistics. (2020). Internet access – households and individuals, Great Britain: 2020. Office for National Statistics. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/householdcharacteristics/homeinternetandsocialmediausage/bulletins/internetaccesshouseholdsandindividuals/2020
3 Lloyds Bank. (2021). Essential Digital Skills Report 2021: Third Edition—Benchmarking the Essential Digital Skills of the UK. https://www.lloydsbank.com/assets/media/pdfs/banking_with_us/whats-happening/210923-lb-essential-digital-skills-2021-report.pdf
4 Ofcom. (2022). Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report 2022. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/234362/adults-media-use-and-attitudes-report-2022.pdf
5 Lloyds Bank. (2021). UK Consumer Digital Index 2021. https://www.lloydsbank.com/assets/media/pdfs/banking_with_us/whats-happening/210513-lloyds-consumer-digital-index-2021-report.pdf
6 Ofcom. (2022). Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes report 2022. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/234362/adults-media-use-and-attitudes-report-2022.pdf