How can we improve digital inclusivity in the UK?

Nathan Baranoski

Diversity

Our digital life is something that many of us take for granted. But, for some, life is lived exclusively offline because they cannot access the internet and the many benefits and services that it offers. A lack of income, education, disability and age are all contributors. Many affected risk being left behind, widening a digital divide between the internet-haves and have-nots. 

Basic digital skills 

The Tech Partnership Basic Digital Skills framework describes five skills that people need to use the internet. They are:  

  1. Managing information (for example, using a search engine or downloading an image) 
  2. Communicating via email or instant messaging 
  3. Purchasing from a website or app 
  4. Solving a problem with a device and verifying a website 
  5. Completing online forms or creating images and video 

The scale of the problem 

The number of people lacking these skills is falling, but 4.3 million individuals still have zero digital skills. 6.4 million others have limited abilities (missing at least one of the above skills). 

Of these, 76% of those with zero digital skills are over 65-years-old. 56% are disabled and, amongst people of working age, the unemployed are most likely to be digitally excluded - particularly if they are on long-term sick leave.  

More has to be done to bring these individuals online if they are to reap the benefits of the internet and not be excluded in the future. 

The benefits of digital inclusivity 

The internet provides knowledge, increases earning potential, saves time and money, and facilitates communication. Those with basic digital skills earn 10% more than their non-digital peers. Online shopping is 13% cheaper than in-store and 14% of internet users say they communicate more with their friends and community through it. 

Improving digital inclusivity should be a priority for all organisations. Becoming more inclusive will widen a target customer pool and ensures that no customer finds a service inaccessible.  

The right balance 

The challenge for organisations is in striking the right balance between advancing and digitalising services, whilst not leaving any customer behind by ensuring non-digital alternatives are available.  

The closure of bank branches offers a good example. Mobile and internet banking made many branches redundantbut older and disabled people rely on physical locations to manage their money 

Alternative approaches  

A hybrid approach offers a solution by not doing away with legacy operations completely. Although digital transformation cannot be avoided, organisations should identify and upskill individuals at risk of being excluded.  

Exploring emerging technology like voice assistants and artificial intelligence (AI) may also help, as they create a more intuitive user experience. An older person, for example, may find it easier to interact with an Amazon Alexa compared to visiting a desktop website.  

Prioritise education 

Better education is important in the long term. This includes helping to avoid people being left out because of their skills, and also informing them of the many benefits of being online. Some may not realise, for instance, that they may be paying more when shopping offline. 

Ultimately, in planning for the digital-first future, don’t forget about the digitally excluded. Maintaining their user experience by offering education and non-digital alternatives will improve digital inclusivity ensuring that all can participate fully in society. 

Technology is driving positive change in society. You and your organisation have the opportunity to truly make a difference just by using this in the right way. If you’re looking for help in taking the next step, get in contact with us.  

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