In today’s digital world, access to technology and the internet has become a necessity for the vast majority of people to live their everyday lives. The internet is used for communication, education, work, and access to information and services. let’s be honest, for most of us, just about everything revolves around the internet. However, not everyone in the UK has equal access to these opportunities and this has resulted in a growing problem of digital inequity.
Digital inequity refers to an unequal access to technology and the internet, leading to disparities of opportunities and outcomes for different social groups. This often affects low-income families, people in rural areas and elderly people. This can have wide-ranging consequences for their social, economic and educational opportunities. The lack of access to high-speed internet and digital devices, coupled with limited digital skills and knowledge perpetuates the digital divide and can limit job opportunities, education, and access to online health services, contributing to social isolation, security risks and limiting innovation. Addressing digital inequity requires prioritising initiatives to increase access to affordable and reliable internet services and provide opportunities for individuals to develop their digital skills.
Devolution and local government also have an impact on the distribution and availability of technology and internet access across the different regions of the UK. For example, where the government of Scotland and the assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland have control over the provision of public services, they may be better equipped to address digital inequity within their borders, while those areas with less control than the devolved administrations have limited levers and will struggle to dramatically impact digital inequality. This has led to disparities in technology and internet access and has resulted in different levels of digital equity across the UK.
Moreover, devolution can impact the implementation and coordination of national initiatives aimed at reducing digital inequity. While those devolved administrations and local governments may be well-positioned to address the specific needs of their communities, there is a clear lack of coordination and consistency across different regions in the UK. This has resulted in disparities in the quality and availability of digital services and opportunities and perpetuates the problem of digital inequity in the UK.
Last year, Ofcom reported the number of households that do not have access to the internet at home currently stands at 6% with around 2 million households experiencing affordability issues with either their fixed broadband and/or smartphone.
According to the Tackling the digital divide debate in the House of Commons, rural areas in the UK face a major issue with digital inequity as 17% of residential and 30% of commercial premises do not have access to superfast broadband (30 Mbit/s or higher). The disparity is even more pronounced when compared to urban areas like London which has 70% gigabit coverage and large towns and cities in the North and West Midlands which have an average coverage of 51%. This digital divide needs to be addressed if rural England wants to take advantage of home working and attract high-tech, high-value businesses.
As an owner of an SEO agency, I’m particularly interested in digital inequity in the UK. I believe it can affect the online behaviour and the digital habits of a large portion of the population, including prospective customers. Digital inequity can limit access to information and online services, which can impact the ability of people to search for and find products and services online. This will clearly have a negative impact on the search visibility and online presence of businesses – such as GrowTraffic’s clients – but perhaps more importantly it impacts the quality of life of individuals in various marginalised groups in society and as such, I’m interested in understanding and addressing these issues.
The Potential Consequences Of Digital Inequity Include
- Widening the Digital Divide: Digital inequity perpetuates the digital divide and exacerbates the divide between those who have access to technology and the internet, and those that don’t. This divide can have long-term consequences for individuals and communities; leading to a gap in digital skills and digital knowledge that can impact an individual’s future opportunities.
- Limiting Economic Opportunities: Digital inequity limits access to job opportunities, online services, and the ability to participate in the digital marketplace. This can have a negative impact on the economy and limit the potential for economic growth and development.
- Hindering Education: Low-income families, rural areas, and older people often struggle to access quality educational resources due to the cost of internet services and digital devices. This can result in lower educational outcomes and limit the potential for future success.
- Health Disparities: Access to telehealth services is limited for those who do not have access to reliable internet services. This can result in health disparities and limit access to essential health services, particularly for those living in rural areas or low-income families.
- Social Isolation: Digital inequity can lead to social isolation and disconnection, particularly for older people who may struggle with digital skills and knowledge. This can have a negative impact on their overall health and well-being, and limit their ability to connect with family and friends.
- Security Risks: Older people and those with limited digital skills and knowledge may be vulnerable to scams and fraudsters who use technology to take advantage of their lack of digital skills and knowledge.
- Limiting Innovation: The digital divide limits the potential for innovation and progress, as those without access to technology and the internet are limited in their ability to participate in the digital world and contribute to technological advancements.
- Addressing digital inequity is essential for ensuring that everyone has equal access to the opportunities and benefits of technology and the internet. By prioritising initiatives that increase access to affordable and reliable internet services, and provide opportunities for individuals to develop their digital skills, we can help ensure that everyone has the opportunity to thrive in the digital world.
The Impact Of Digital Inequity On Low-Income Families
One of the biggest challenges faced by low-income families is the cost of high-speed internet and digital devices. Many families struggle to afford the monthly cost of internet services and often resort to slow and unreliable connections.
For low-income families, the lack of access to digital technologies can result in reduced opportunities for education, job training, and access to essential services. Children from low-income families are less likely to have access to computers and the internet at home, which puts them at a disadvantage in terms of their ability to complete homework, research, and participate in online learning. This can limit their future educational and career opportunities.
In terms of healthcare, low-income families may struggle to access telemedicine services, which can be a valuable resource for those who live in rural areas or have mobility issues. This can result in decreased access to essential medical services, leading to worse health outcomes.
In terms of civic engagement, digital inequity can result in a lack of access to online resources and information, making it difficult for low-income individuals to participate in civic activities and engage in political discourse. This can result in a lack of representation for these individuals and communities.
The Impact Of Digital Inequity On Rural Communities
In rural areas, there may be limited access to high-speed internet, which can hinder the ability of residents to participate fully in the digital economy and access information and services online. This can lead to a digital divide that exacerbates existing socioeconomic disparities and limits economic growth in rural communities.
Lack of access to high-speed internet in rural areas can also negatively impact education, as students may not have access to online resources and technology necessary for learning. Additionally, many rural healthcare facilities may lack the technology necessary to provide adequate care, leading to difficulties accessing telemedicine and other forms of remote healthcare.
The Impact Of Digital Inequity On Older People
Digital inequity can have a significant impact on older community members. It refers to the unequal distribution of digital resources, such as internet access and digital devices, and the unequal ability to use and benefit from these resources.
For old people, digital inequity can result in social isolation and reduced access to important resources and services, such as healthcare information and telemedicine, online government services, and educational opportunities. Additionally, older individuals may lack the digital literacy and skills needed to fully participate in the digital world, further exacerbating their disadvantage.
In some cases, old people may also face financial barriers to accessing digital resources, as they may have limited retirement savings or fixed income. This can limit their ability to purchase digital devices and internet access, further exacerbating their disadvantage.
Reducing Digital Inequality In The UK
To address digital inequity in the UK, it is important to prioritise initiatives that increase access to affordable and reliable internet services and provide opportunities for individuals to develop their digital skills. This can include programmes that offer free or low-cost internet services to low-income families and initiatives that provide digital training and support to older community members and those living in rural areas.
Individuals, businesses, and government organisations can take several actions to help reduce digital inequity in the UK.
How Individuals Can Reduce Digital Inequity
- Donate unused devices and equipment to organisations that provide technology access to underserved communities.
- Support digital literacy programs for people who struggle with technology and the internet.
- Advocate for policies and initiatives to increase access to technology and the internet for underserved communities.
How Businesses Can Reduce Digital Inequity
- Partner with community organisations to provide digital devices and internet access to those in need.
- Offer digital skills training and support to employees from underserved communities.
- Invest in technology infrastructure in rural areas to help bridge the digital divide.
How Government Organisations Can Reduce Digital Inequity
- Provide funding and support for programs that increase access to technology and the internet for underserved communities.
- Implement policies that make internet access more affordable and accessible for low-income families.
- Encourage private companies to invest in technology infrastructure in rural areas.
- Develop and support digital literacy programs for older people and those living in rural areas.
- By taking these actions, individuals, businesses, and government organisations can help to reduce digital inequity in the UK and ensure that everyone has equal access to the opportunities and benefits of technology and the internet.
The government has launched some programmes that should be taken note of. The Get Help With Technology Programme provides digital devices and support to help people – and especially young people in education – who are unable to afford the necessary equipment to access the internet.
The government has established Digital Skills Partnerships. The Digital Skills Partnerships aims to bring together public, private and charity sector organisations to boost skills to create a world-leading, inclusive digital economy. The Local Digital Skills Partnerships are led by a regional coordinator. Our own Local DSP Regional Co-ordinator in Lancashire is Kerry Harrison, although our base in South Yorkshire isn’t covered by a Local DSP Regional Co-ordinator,
There are eight Digital Skills Partnerships in the UK, which can be found:
- Heart of the South West
- West Midlands
- Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
- Cheshire and Warrington
- Catalyst South
- West Yorkshire
- Hull and East Yorkshire
Whilst there is some effort to improve digital equity in the UK, there is no joined-up approach. Although local and regional administrations no doubt provide great opportunities to really target the money to the specific areas it’s required, without a UK-wide approach, it is likely, digital inequity throughout the UK will only increase.
In conclusion, digital inequity is a growing problem in the UK, which affects individuals from various communities, including low-income families, rural areas, and elderly citizens. Addressing this issue requires a multi-faceted approach, including initiatives to increase access to affordable and reliable internet services, providing new opportunities for individuals to develop their digital skills. By working together, we can move towards everyone having equal access to the opportunities and benefits of technology and the internet. However, it will only be via a truly joined-up approach and strategic thinking from the UK government that we can hope to really begin to tackle this issue. In 2023, we can’t afford to let anyone slip through the net.