The digital inclusion divide across the UK
If your business is doing more things digitally, you need to be careful you're not isolating customers who cannot afford or don’t feel able to adapt to a more digital lifestyle. In a bid to support more customers in getting online and to bridge the digital divide, many charities and local organisations are working with SMEs to provide business WiFi for staff and customers to use, and to improve digital inclusion across their local communities.
With the help of the Keeping Digital Foundation, we have been able to reveal that nearly 1 in 5 adults lack the most basic digital skills needed for everyday life, with over 1 in 20 households having no internet access, neither fixed-line nor mobile.
What is digital inclusion and why is it important?
Digital inclusion refers to the work of making sure all individuals and communities have equal access to digital technologies - including the Internet, and the skills and knowledge required to use them effectively. This means that everyone, regardless of their socio-economic status, ethnicity, age, gender, or disability, should have the opportunity to benefit from digital technologies.
Digital inclusion is vital in today's world for many reasons. It helps promote equal opportunities and social inclusion. With access to digital technology, people can access information, education, job opportunities and vital support that they may not have had access to before. Since the Coronavirus pandemic, many vital support services have moved online. Digital inclusion helps to reduce inequalities and ensure that everyone has an equal chance to succeed.
And it will become even more important after the 2025 digital switchover, by which time all traditional copper landline connections will be switched off. This means anyone needing to use a landline phone will have to switch to VoIP.
What groups are affected by the digital divide?
Everyone can be affected by the digital divide, and the impacts of the digital divide can be different for everyone. Older people may rely on their smartphones to order prescriptions on the NHS app and to get their groceries delivered, whereas younger people equally rely on technology to aid with their studies and careers.
Where are the UK's most digitally inclusive
Our analysis has looked at the number of digital inclusion services provided across the UK, compared to their population and sizes retrospectively.
Manchester revealed as the most digitally inclusive city in the UK
|Number of digital inclusion services
With an incredible 193 digital inclusion services, Manchester continues to take the lead as the most digitally inclusive city in the UK, supporting residents to get online and access vital digital services.
Surprisingly, whilst London did have a larger number of digital inclusion services when taking into account the population of the capital, London failed to rank with fewer services per person.
Coventry follows Manchester with 61 digital inclusion services and is then followed by Bangor, Newcastle, Birmingham, Liverpool, Worcester, York, Bradford and Hull making the top ten.
Armagh among places in the UK that need a digital inclusion boost
|Number of digital inclusion services
Ranking as the worst place for digital inclusion support is Armagh, a town in Northern Ireland, where there are currently no dedicated services providing that support to residents. Ely and St Davids both also provided no dedicated support service.
Despite Durham running four digital inclusion ‘hub’ services, this is a low number considering their population of 522,100. Lichfield, Chester, Londonderry, Wakefield, Brighton and Westminster all followed behind.
In 2023, the House of Lords Digital and Communications Committee highlighted the urgent need for action on the digital divide onto the national agenda when it launched its inquiry into digital exclusion and the cost of living crisis. Their report did not hold back on its criticism of the Government’s lack of action on the issue, with Conservative Chair Baroness Tina Stowell herself commenting that ‘the scale of the problem is a direct consequence of the Government’s political lethargy’.
How can we close the digital divide in 2024?
Our study highlights the pivotal role of digital inclusion support in building a more connected society. The fact that Manchester, Coventry, and Bangor have all emerged as the top three cities for digital inclusion in the UK is undoubtedly thanks to the hard work of local charities and organisations in their areas, showcasing their commitment to bridging the digital divide.
However, the study also highlights the urgency for a nationwide approach to digital inclusion. While it's encouraging to see progress in certain areas, it underscores the necessity to extend these efforts to every corner of the country. Digital inclusion is not just a matter of convenience; it's an important aspect of everyday life and can have huge implications for people’s access to education, employment, and even combating loneliness.
David Thompson, co-founder of the digital inclusion charity Keeping Digital Foundation, provided these tips for how businesses can support residents with digital inclusion:
- Rollout public WiFi - Businesses that are open to the public, like cafes or restaurants, are encouraged to provide WiFi to their customers. Free WiFi networks ensure residents can get online out and about, especially if they do not have access to the internet at home.
- Corporate volunteering - Corporate volunteering can be of huge benefit to a local charity and allows your employees to give back positively to their local communities. Some of our local businesses allow their employees to volunteer for 1-2 hours a month, with their employees helping with a range of digital inclusion support services.
- Device donations - Working with a local charity or organisation, businesses can donate old computers, laptops and tablets to be redistributed to those who need digital devices. Many charitable organisations are already providing free data to low-income residents, and these second-hand devices are in demand. Many organisations will also wipe the device of any data for free as part of your donation.
- Corporate donations - You could partner with a local digital inclusion charity to raise vital funds and awareness, through a corporate fundraising campaign, Payroll Giving, or a sponsorship. Local charities and organisations can then use these funds on services that are run in your local community.
The index was created by comparing the number of digital inclusion services to the population sizes and area sizes. The number of digital inclusion services per area was revealed by reviewing registered organisations part of Good Things Foundation England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Population data is correct as of the 2021 Census survey completed by residents. All data is correct as of 15th January 2024.