Why digital inclusion is critical

Social Housing

In the digital age, our success story will be one in which everybody has the opportunity to get online and is able to enjoy the many benefits that the internet can bring. Digital inclusion opens a broad range of opportunities to both people and businesses, allowing us all to shape our future direction in society, something which an analogue world could never do.

Critically, we need to ensure that we grasp the opportunity that digital technologies offer to tackle deep-rooted social and economic inequalities in our society. We must prevent these inequalities from being reinforced. This requires us to do more to stimulate demand and increase digital literacy and confidence amongst those who do find themselves excluded from the digital world.

Broadband or high speed internet access is no longer a luxury, but a basic necessity for human and economic development. The challenge is to expand broadband access, especially in rural or deprived areas. Digital divides in excess exists across the UK and as such divides have a proportionate impact on rural communities and the poor. These disparities impede shared prosperity and constrain access to opportunities out of poverty.

Inevitably, the reasons for being offline are both complex and personal. Most people who remain digitally excluded face multiple barriers to getting online. They may need specific support to tackle each of these barriers. Broadly speaking, these main barriers to participation could be identified as:

  • Motivation
  • Confidence
  • Availability of training
  • Affordability

I was no different. When I first got married and had my two beautiful children, we lived in a council house. A basic necessity to the well-functioning realms of society, social housing helps families and individuals to a great start in life. Whilst it helped build good family values and security without huge financial burdens, finding that extra funding for technology was not an easy option.

Research shows us that there is a strong, statistically significant association between the social disadvantages an individual faces and their inability to access and use digital services. Those who are most deprived socially are also least likely to have access to digital resources such as online services.

One in 10 of the adult population (9%), amounting to four million people, suffer ‘deep’ social exclusion, a severe combination of social disadvantages and have no meaningful engagement with internet-based services.

Three out of four of those who suffer ‘deep’ social exclusion, have only limited engagement with internet-based services. This extrapolates to about 13% of the UK’s population, or about six million adults.

According to research by the London School of Economics and Political Science, three independent surveys – OII, Ofcom and ONS – stated there are clear expectations to the general pattern such as people who, despite their social backgrounds, were either unexpectedly engaged with or disengaged from the internet.

  • The unexpectedly engaged – those who are socially disadvantaged and yet engaged with the internet – tend to be younger and single, are somewhat more likely to have a higher level of educational attainment, have children and are not retired, separated or widowed. Furthermore, disadvantaged people from certain ethnic groups, particularly of Afro-Caribbean origins, tend to be more highly engaged with the internet than expected purely on the basis of their social disadvantages. These results indicate that some individuals within socially disadvantaged groups are capable of overcoming barriers to digital engagement.
  • Analysis of the backgrounds of those who are more disengaged from the internet than expected on the basis of their social advantages, shows that these individuals tend to live in rural rather than urban areas, are older, unemployed and less likely to live in a household with children.

To summarise, with better and easier access to the internet – which every internet service provider has a duty to provide – you are giving people of all walks of life, greater opportunities, both economically and socially. Simply providing access to these platforms, however, is not enough – digital disengagement is a complex compound problem involving cultural, social and attitudinal factors and in some cases informed ‘digital choice’. The mode of service delivery ultimately matters less than the quality and cost-effectiveness.

That said, technology is playing a key role in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of services and is not going away. Those who are able to access these services through electronic channels have a greater choice and a greater range of benefits available to them.

Digital participation lies at the heart of ClearFibre’s approach to building levels of digital equality across the nation. Removing as many of the barriers to entry as possible, ClearFibre is campaigning to all its partners to identify, promote and deliver a fully digital Britain.

Paul Eaton is chief commercial officer of ClearFibre, part of the Telcom Group. Please get in touch: paul.eaton@clearfibre.uk

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