Digital poverty: 3 factors and how society can tackle it | NCFE

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Digital poverty: 3 factors and how society can tackle it

Whilst the percentage of adults not accessing the internet at home has decreased from 11 per cent to 6 per cent in recent times, it's still the case that many people remain digitally excluded. Over 1.7 million households do not have access to the internet, with older people three times as likely to be offline and people on low incomes twice as likely.

What is digital poverty?

As outlined by the Digital Poverty Alliance, digital poverty is “the inability to interact with the online world fully, when where and how an individual needs to”.

Three of the biggest factors contributing to digital poverty and enabling the digital divide are: 

  • Financial poverty causing digital poverty (exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis)
  • Access, which can be the result of geography
  • Skills, including lack of education.

Cost and access

According to Ofcom data, two of the groups least likely to have home internet access – just behind those aged over 65+ (of whom 18% are without access) – are lower-income households (11% without access) and the most financially vulnerable (10% without access). Around 2 million households struggle to afford their internet bills.

The affordability of not only internet connection, but the devices and equipment which we use to connect, is a key issue – as is the issue of connectivity itself.

Restricted access to digital – particularly the internet – continues to be a side effect of geography. People living in rural areas may have to pay more, receive less choice of service, or wait later than those living in more urbanised areas for access to the latest speeds and technology. Often the initiatives and measures to tackle geographic digital inclusion are not coherent, which is why a recent report suggested the use of alternative technologies, such as wireless and satellite, to bring fast internet to areas that are the most hard-to-reach geographically.

Poor connectivity also occurs in economically disadvantaged metropolitan communities, where a strong overlap between digital poverty and financial poverty exists. The Government's Levelling Up White Paper recently confirmed their revised broadband target for gigabit and mobile connectivity, tackling both rural and urban regions alike:

By 2030, the UK will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population.

"Levelling Up the United Kingdom" by the UK Government

Footnotes in the White Paper clarified that the target means "at least 99% coverage", addressing that there will be 0.3% of properties "that are too expensive to reach, even under the publicly-funded Project Gigabit programme" – so the question remains as to how we address digital inclusion for all.

Skills and education

Over 9 million people lack basic foundation-level digital skills to navigate our digital world, according to research by the Lloyds Banking Group. With so many elements of our daily lives being managed online – such as internet banking and staying in touch with family via video conferencing technology – having the confidence and skills to understand and efficiently use digital technology is arguably more important than ever before.

Our Essential Digital Skills qualifications (EDSQ) aim to tackle the lack of education around digital to relieve access issues. Mapped to national standards for digital literacy, we've designed the EDSQ to fill knowledge gaps and provide vital skills, such as:

  • Using devices and handling information
  • Creating and editing
  • Communicating
  • Transacting
  • Being safe and responsible online.

Available at Entry Level 3 and Level 1, this post-16 qualification is also eligible for funding as part of the government’s adult education budget. We're committed to raising awareness of what restricts access to digital and will continue to use our influence to investigate causes and advance solutions, for the benefit of everyone in our society.  

Want to find out more? You can learn about our Essential Digital Skills qualifications with our EDSQ Quick Guide. Or, you can visit our digital sector specialism page to read about the opportunities we provide in this area.

A lack of digital skills and access can have a huge negative impact on a person’s life, leading to poorer health outcomes and a lower life expectancy, increased loneliness and social isolation, less access to jobs and education.

Good Things Foundation, 2022

Get in touch

Get in touch to find out more about our Essential Digital Skills qualifications and receive a free copy of our Essential Digital Skills quick guide.

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