THE BLOG
14/12/2011 05:37 GMT | Updated 07/02/2012 05:12 GMT

Digital Exclusion and Social Exclusion Go Hand in Hand

The government has its sights set on superfast broadband for all, and the announcement in the Autumn Statement of a £100million pot for high speed internet links in 10 cities across Britain will be a welcome boost for households who want to see an improvement in their services.

The government has its sights set on superfast broadband for all, and the announcement in the Autumn Statement of a £100million pot for high speed internet links in 10 cities across Britain will be a welcome boost for households who want to see an improvement in their services.

However, despite successful efforts to encourage more people to get online there is still a significant portion of the population that remains digitally excluded.

The Oxford Internet Survey findings, released in October, showed that 23% of Britons had never used the internet. Retired people are the least likely internet users, with only 37% online. They are also the least confident, with 45% nervous in case they break something.

Disability remains a key source of digital exclusion with only 41% of disabled Britons using the internet - about half that of non-disabled (78%).

Sadly, digital exclusion and social exclusion go hand in hand.

It should be easy for everyone to access the services they need. The exodus of services from the real world to digital realms is not going to help those families and individuals who are not online. Instead, there is a danger it will make them even more excluded and disadvantaged.

David Cameron has stated: "We need to ensure people aren't being left behind as more services and business move online. I believe there's a real danger that they are and that the implications of this are extremely serious."

Technology should make accessing information simpler, but that is not always the case. Research by Ofcom in 2009 revealed that only 15% of people in deprived areas had used a government website. Of those who had, many found it inaccessible because they didn't have the skills to use it effectively.

Local authorities have a crucial role to play in supporting vulnerable citizens. However, research by the Local Government Information Unit (2010), commissioned by StartHere, found that 85% of local authorities admitted having difficulty in contacting the following groups: vulnerable families, Black Minority Ethnic (especially older people in these groups), young people, NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training), young offenders, young carers, older people with disabilities, older housebound people, asylum seekers, migrant workers, travelling communities, the homeless, ex-offenders on release, ex-servicemen and women, and people for whom English is not their first language.

That the government has recognised the undeniable link between digital and social exclusion is fantastic, but more needs to be done to make vital services accessible to the most vulnerable members of society - and to get them online.