Last week saw the release of the Lloyds Bank 2019 Consumer Digital Index and the Ofcom Adults: Media use and attitudes report 2019. These two reports contain key insights into the ways that different groups engage with the word through digital means, as well as highlighting those who remain digitally excluded. We’re diving right in to find out what the news (and the future) looks like for digital inclusion.

In terms of the scope of the reports, different measurables mean that key statistics are not directly comparable. However they both group respondents by skill levels tied to key tasks and abilities, as well as grouping by age, socioeconomic groups and experience of disabilities.

There are clear links between digital skills and media literacy, and those groups who struggle with skills are less likely to be digital media-literate. Just as we’ve seen in previous years, digital exclusion mirrors other forms of social exclusion.

Those aged over 65 are less likely to use the internet at all, and if they do their digital skills are fewer than younger groups. Socioeconomically, ABC1&2 groups report higher levels of internet use, confidence and literacy, where groups DE tend toward less confidence in their skills and use the internet for fewer areas of their lives. Groups DE are also more likely to only use smartphones or mobile devices when they do access the internet, which can contribute to self-exclusion from more complex online tasks such as completing official forms and accessing public services.

The data from the Digital Index is encouraging on an overall level. Lloyds records 1.8 million more people are now classed as ‘Digital First’ – the highest level of competency – and 1.5 fewer people are considered ‘Digitally Disengaged’ – the lowest. It’s great to see these figures change for the better, and to see that the percentage of people with zero skills is declining. Scotland’s figures put us in the lead against the overall figures for England and Wales, but as a whole, skills are increasing all areas represented in the report.

While Lloyds sees 92% of the population as having at least one foundation digital skill, up by 1% from 2018, Ofcom reports that 13% of their respondents do not use the internet at all and this figure is unchanged since 2016. The different approaches to what constitutes digitally competent or confident, and how this is measured, are where the reports diverge and could explain the contrast in data interpretation. The divergence could also be due to data-collecting practices or sample sizes, but we haven’t seen the full Lloyds dataset as of yet. It’s likely also that the nuance of how people experience digital engagement is lost when closed questions are used, or that people who do engage digitally in small ways don’t connect this to a feeling of digital competence.

Both reports cite cybersecurity fears and concerns as being significant drivers in keeping people from wanting to engage with the internet or gain digital skills. Motivation is also key, with a large proportion of those who are classed as offline or digitally disengaged saying that they are uninterested or unwilling in what benefits the internet could bring them – – but most of this group also mention issues with cybersecurity and being safeonline, which suggests that these are issues underlying the motivation barrier. The February 2019 Good Things Foundation report on digital motivation also supports this interpretation.

Much of the key messaging from these reports mirrors what SCVO Digital and our working partners know from our programmes – that in order to encourage people to reap the benefits of digital skills, there must be incentives that are personally engaging, that digital exclusion follows patterns for social exclusion, and that cybersecurity knowledge and confidence around being safe online are often significant barriers to those who are digitally excluded. Whilst the figures are in some places reassuring, it’s important not to forget that these challenges aren’t overcome by inertia. We can be pleased that there is positive movement in the data for those with zero digital skills, and as the digital world changes quickly, we can ensure that this progress is not wasted by using our resources and experience to champion and encourage access to skills training, information and enthusiasm.

If you want to learn more about SCVO’s work and partnerships in digital inclusion, you can find out more about the Scottish Digital Participation Charter, the Digital Champion training programme, and testing your own skills using the Essential and Foundation digital skills checklists on our digital page.