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Tackling the Digital Divide

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: GDS team

It has been some time since we last blogged about our work relating to Assisted Digital.  While we’ve been quiet, we have been busy working with our stakeholders to develop our thinking about the Assisted Digital (supporting access to Digital by Default services) and Digital Inclusion (tackling the issues that prevent everyone getting online) agendas.  Of course, during this period, work has also continued on tackling the Digital Divide by encouraging people to get online.

Therefore, it is great to see that the efforts of the Race Online 2012 campaign team and its partners (with Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox at the helm) are making real progress.  Recent figures on internet usage (pdf) from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that nearly 300,000 people in the UK went online for the first time during Q3 of 2011.

This takes the total number of adults who have been online at least once to 41.6m, equating to over 83% of the population.  While this is very good news and clearly demonstrates a rising trend across the entire population to get online, the ONS figures show that there is still work to be done in engaging many socio-economic groups.

Of course, once a person has sampled the benefits of being online, we must do more to ensure that they can stay online.  The 3,800 strong network of UK Online Centres offer a range of courses aimed at helping people to develop digital skills and gain access to internet enabled computers.  UK Online Centres, along with other Race Online 2012 partners, are supporting the Give an Hour at Christmas campaign, which encourages volunteers to help someone to get online.  This builds on the recent Give an Hour campaign held to coincide with the clocks going back at the end of British Summer time.  GDS is working with the Cabinet Office to encourage Civil Servants to support the campaign.

One of the recognised barriers to Digital Services is accessibility (barriers that prevent or make it difficult to use technology) and the need to improve access to technology for everyone.  The eAccessibility Forum , run by DCMS, recently launched a new website to encourage the sharing of ideas and experiences relating to accessibility.  The discussions that take place within the forum will feed into the next iteration of the eAccessibility Action Plan.

Working at the heart of Government Digital policy gives us a real sense of responsibility to identify the drivers and enablers which will help every citizen to reap the benefits of this digital age.  Of course, it is important to deliver Digital by Default services that are usable and accessible; but it is just as important to understand why people use the internet - or more importantly why a significant proportion of the population are still reluctant to use it.

We want to do a  lot more to help citizens to get online, to participate in a new digital age and to appreciate the social, economic, educational and recreational benefits of being digital.  So in the coming months we will be sharing our thoughts and promoting more of the great work being done to get people online - more will follow soon ...

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  1. Comment by Marcus posted on

    "Digital Divide" - a societal defect or is this really just an economically driven ICT policy from the Government? Sometimes you wonder just how ill-educated Westminster perceive the general public to be..

  2. Comment by andrewpick posted on

    Reblogged this on andrewpick.

  3. Comment by Andrew posted on

    From my qualitative research, and empirical knowledge, I have identified a complex blend of issues impacting on the digital divide and resultant social exclusion, which are not simply down to connections and the speed, and individuals often have multiple factors impacting on their ability to access digital services, some of the main issues are:

    Cost – first and foremost is the biggest driving force! I appreciate considerable efforts have been made to address this, but for some families, and without being too obvious about the economic climate, the cost of connection fees is simply a luxury, let alone the purchasing and maintenance of the equipment! The unemployed more than ever need access, and not simply an hour or two a week in the local library, yet speaking with many of them who have been unemployed more than 2 months, and are solely reliant on benefit income, this is one of the first expenses to be cut back on!

    Education – excellent efforts again being made to educate the potential 9.2 million prospective users, but I believe we can do more. In every village, town and city across the country there are schools, colleges and universities who all have IT suits that are, once the bell goes for home time, sitting un-used. In seeking access to utilise these facilities, only 1 out of 6 secondary schools within the area of my town, opened its doors and allowed me to get involved with its 12 week PC Know How course, open to all members of the community. The other 5 thought it a nice idea, but had no plans to do the same – surely we can do more to open every facility in the evenings? Of course, there is also the issue surrounding individuals previous educational achievements and perceived relevance of digital services, which is still highly relevant (JRF, 2004)

    Chaos – we live in a free market society, which does not help when it comes to accessing the internet for various reasons – an example would be around job search – why - the sheer number of recruitment websites (best estimate is in the UK to be in the region of 1000) create a minefield for even the most talented of internet users. I am unsure how social policy can address this issue, but it really is an issue! A huge assumption by many Jobseekers, is all vacancies are advertised on (soon to be… I suppose legislating for such would not be a bad idea? Alternatively, I issue the best 30 or so as recommended by other users and educate on maximising the use of search engines – but web designers are clever too!!!

    Fear – why do some people never use a bank? A huge put off for those new to, or have never used the internet is the fear of data security and realistically a fear of the unknown. So much of the press contains a negative counter to the positive efforts being made to encourage digital access – we see news about government sites being hacked, email scams, phishing… all real fears for many, which I find to be the greatest resisting force, and utterly unchallengeable as, just like those with cash under the bed, they’ll stick to what they know is safe – thank you very much!

    These are just some of the main areas I receive feedback on, some daily, and I thought I would share my thoughts.

  4. Comment by David posted on


    Have you spoken with anyone from DWP? We're looking at rolling out a clever initiative to provide non-digitally enabled job seekers with access to the Net... Please contact David Cotterill for details.


  5. Comment by bkamall posted on


    Thank you for your comment.

    The role of GDS as explained elsewhere in this blog (see About GDS) is “to ensure the Government offers world-class digital products that meet people’s needs”. Our focus is on the design and delivery of Digital by Default services; including the necessary strategy (or strategies) of providing Assisted Digital services where required.

    Therefore our focus in Tackling the Digital Divide, is very much on encouraging those who remain offline to get online. The recent blog entry celebrates some recent successes in reducing the number of people who have never been online and some of the ongoing initiatives to help get more people online.

    Although GDS has no direct role in the development and delivery of Broadband infrastructure, we do acknowledge that user experience of Digital Services is dependent on having decent access to broadband. We will therefore work with other Government Departments - including DCMS and, their delivery partner, BDUK - in support of their plans for delivering the Governments Broadband Strategy; which is designed to help overcome the issues you mentioned.

    Bob Kamall
    Senior Policy Adviser

  6. Comment by chrisconder posted on

    If you really want to bridge the digital divide you have to put some effort in to getting decent connections for everyone. Currently only those who live near exchanges or cabinets have any thing bordering on adequate. There are 3 million with sub standard connections and these will not be helped much by the funding available because it is going into 'superfast' ie souped up copper for those who already have a connection. The rural areas and urban fringe will get the USC of 2 megabit through expensive stop gap technology, wasting the funding and in another couple of years it will all be to do again. You can put events on and drag folk into online centres until you are blue in the face but it won't get them using it unless they have a great connection that just works. At Home.
    Just sayin.

    • Replies to chrisconder>

      Comment by Pete posted on

      Good point, I think the money for an infrastructure upgrade nationwide has been approved, and this will be less of an issue over the next 2-3 years i hope.