By Erica Roscoe, Senior Research Fellow, IPPR North
Digital access is essential to our everyday lives. But our recent research into digital exclusion highlighted the barriers that many face to accessing online resources, and the challenges they encounter as a result.
Our research, which focussed on the North East but had nationally relevant findings and recommendations, found that the reasons for digital exclusion are complex and varied, and that digital exclusion often exists on a sliding scale. In our work we characterised digital exclusion as a lack of connectivity, access to appropriate devices, lack of skills and confidence and a lack of online accessibility. This broad definition encompasses individuals who, for example, may be able to use their smartphone to check social media but not have the device or appropriate skills to complete routine tasks through a laptop or desktop computer.
Our work further found that groups often disproportionately affected by digital exclusion are those who are already marginalised, including groups such as disabled people, asylum seekers, people living in rural locations and people experiencing poverty and for many, digital exclusion exacerbates this broader marginalisation. For many living in poverty, digital exclusion is often a matter of affordability; both of devices and of connection. But things are compounded by the fact that being digitally excluded often reduces access to things like job opportunities and precludes you from accessing the full marketplace when needing to make purchases, meaning it’s not possible to find the cheapest deal.
While work has been done throughout the pandemic to combat digital exclusion, we argue that a more coordinated, long-term approach now needs to be adopted to support anyone at risk of digital exclusion. Given the broad range of reasons that someone might experience digital exclusion, we can’t rely on a one size fits all approach to resolving the issue, but need to support people in a range of scenarios. Key recommendations include the need for a minimum standard of access available to all, as well as coordinated signposting and a safety net for anyone identified as being at risk of digital exclusion through access to other public services. We suggest that support should be offered in a range of environments, from one-stop physical digital support hubs, to ongoing support from employers and outreach opportunities to communities most at risk. We also put forward that digital inclusion must be at the heart of other strategies focussed on poverty reduction. Without this, those living in poverty who are facing digital exclusion will continue to face restrictions in access to things like job opportunities, skills development and access to the marketplace.
Eradicating digital exclusion won’t happen overnight and it can’t be done without a joined-up approach. We call on government at the national, regional and local level, alongside VCSE organisations and the private sector to prioritise this agenda and affect change.
To read our report in full click here.