It’s a big question, with a complex answer. While 8 out of 10 people use the internet on a daily basis, the statistics showing high levels of use hide a deeper digital divide.
The latest evidence
Yesterday we published new research exploring what digital exclusion looks like in Scotland in 2017 and what approaches are likely to be most effective in getting people online and developing basic digital skills. The research draws on the evaluation of the 126 local projects we’ve been funding over the past three years, together with a wider digital exclusion rapid literature review carried out by the University of the West of Scotland. The research highlights that:
- Over the past year growth in internet use has stalled, suggesting that all those who want/are able to be connected, are. People who lack confidence or are unable to afford connectivity are being left behind.
- Simply having access to the internet is no guarantee that people can use it to its full potential – 21% of adults in Scotland still do not have basic digital skills that enable them to realise these benefits.
- Those most in need of support from public services – including those on low incomes, with disabilities and older people – are amongst the least likely to be able to access information and opportunities online or have the digital skills to apply for jobs.
- Access to support to is least available where it’s needed most, and is more likely to be taken up by those who are already more proficient.
- Ambitions to deliver more public services online, particularly welfare and benefits, risk further disenfranchising people who already face multiple forms of social exclusion.
Overall, the evidence tells us that approaches to overcoming digital exclusion must be embedded in a broader approach to tackling social exclusion.
Taking collective action
On Tuesday 22 August we brought more than 60 people together to launch the research and explore the contribution organisations from across the public, private and third sectors could make towards tackling digital exclusion. We split participants into groups related to six specific topics they identified as priorities, before asking them to identify a vision and bold steps they’d take to achieve that.
- The group focused on disabilityhad a vision of ‘universal support and training to all wherever they access it.’ Their bold steps included:
- Free internet access
- Universal grant scheme / equipment lending and support / training
- Training / awareness of disability to mainstream organisations
- The group focused on employment and employabilityhad a vision where ‘people have the skills required to find and maintain employment.’ Their bold steps included:
- A network of supported public access focused on Scotland’s deprived areas
- Opening public buildings to ensure hyper-local access and support
- Universal Free WiFi
- The group focused on poverty, inequality and benefitshad a vision where ‘individuals and communities are digitally enabled and digital inclusion is a right.’ Their bold steps included:
- Free access to support where required
- Increase public access
- Mass scale of upskilling staff
- The group focused on infrastructure, access and affordabilityhad a vision where ‘good quality connectivity is a basic human right.’ Their bold steps included:
- Free basic broadband
- Social housing to include broadband as a given
- Digital library / mobile digital access
- One group focused on older peoplehad a vision of ‘getting more older people online with the outcome of enhancing their lives.’ The second group had a vision where “a digital world needs to have a focus on people with clearly visible benefits and support for all.” Their bold steps included:
- More safe spaces for access and lendable devices with connectivity
- Training and resources should be targeted to connecting people (not just economic / commercial gain)
- More guidance on sites about being safe online
- More dedicated funding needed
- The group focused on young peoplehad a vision of a “right to digital literacy and a knowledge of how this can lead to positive destinations” Their bold steps included:
- Easy / affordable access to technology
- Embed digital education across subjects
- Provide clear pathways across sectors that require digital career skills
Based on feedback and conversations we’ll be exploring a number of interventions and will be launching these in the Autumn. In the meantime, we would be delighted to hear from more organisations who can join the national movement to tackle digital exclusion by making a commitment to Scotland’s Digital Participation Charter. You can download the full report and literature review on the Charter website. To find out more about yesterday’s event, check out #digiscot on Twitter or view the slides with the research findings.