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Today is the equivalent of Christmas day for those of us who dedicate our lives to tackling digital exclusion, with the release of Lloyds’ 2019 Consumer Digital Index. And, having read the report, I feel both optimism and concern in equal parts. Now, I hope you are feeling strong, because this blog is going to be stats-heavy.

Looking at the headline figures, there are 1.8 million more people this year with the highest level of digital capability than in 2018 – which is undoubtedly a good thing. The ‘Digitally Disengaged’ group (those who have little or not digital behaviours) is down by 1.5 million (6.1 million in 2019 compared to 7.5 million in 2018). 25% of UK adults (12.7 million) are ‘Digitally Competent’ (which means they have an email address and can shop and stream online) and 62% of the UK (31.5 million) are classed as ‘Digital First’ (they use multiple devices, shop and stream online and prefer to manage money digitally). I was even surprised to see that there’s a 11% increase in over 60s who shop online. The picture overall is rosier. But…

…and there is always a but…

The report does also highlight the importance of, what Lloyds calls the “Digital Dividend”. Whether that’s the £744 people can save by being online by shopping for local services or that 75% of people classed as ‘Digital First’ are saving money online, 57% of them have improved their employability and 42% of them use it to manage their physical and mental health Those of us who are ‘Digital First’ are paying up to 9% less for our utilities and we’re more likely to have started saving. It’s clear from the Lloyd’s Consumer Digital Index that if you’re digitally capable you are more likely to be happy, healthier and better off.

As the benefits of being online are clearer than ever, then also the urgency to get digitally excluded people online is greater than ever. The other side to the coin is that those who are ‘Digitally Disengaged’ are more disadvantaged than ever and whilst the number is decreasing, it is still a huge chunk of the population. Over 11.9 million people (22%) lack all of the essential digital skills, and 4.1 million people are offline. 7.1 million people cannot open an app and 6 million people cannot even turn a device on.

If nothing is done to address this, 4.5 million (8% of the UK population) will still be offline in 2030, when they will be even more disadvantaged than those who are offline now. I’ll address this later.

In the workplace, 54% of people now use the internet, up from 47% last year. And this is likely to increase year-on-year. Yet more than half of the workforce (50% for full-time workers, 64% for part-time) lack the essential digital skills for work. This is something that needs to be addressed by the private sector, as well as government, as a startling 63% of working people have never received any digital skills training from their employers. By investing in their employees’ digital skills, businesses will be investing in their own future as the industries they work in increasingly rewards those who are digitally innovative.

A stat that might surprise you is that 48% of people offline are under 60 – it’s becoming an increasingly incorrect assumption to believe that all younger people are online and ready for a future of work in the digital economy. The North East, which has more NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) young people than any other region, also has a higher proportion of ‘Digitally Disengaged’ people. It is those who come from a poorer socioeconomic background who are most likely to be digitally excluded, with 47% of those who are offline coming from low-income households.

Whilst some of the findings are concerning, I’m an optimist and believe this gives us the grounds to tackle digital exclusion and reap the benefits of a fully digital included nation. The report mentions that by 2030, 8% of the adult population will still be offline – and this is something that we need to address as a priority.

Last year, we published Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included Nation, which sets out how we can ensure everyone is digitally included by 2028 – and one of the key actions is that employers need to do more to support their workforce – something that is backed up by today’s report

Another area both the Consumer Digital Index and our Blueprint reference is the challenge of motivation, or of making the internet relevant. Three quarters of offline adults say they have no interest in getting online, and of the offline population who say ‘nothing’ could get them online, 89% have cited cybersecurity and fraud concerns as the main barrier.  Although this stat is surprising, it is something that we can overcome. As I discussed earlier this month, the government are introducing their Online Harms White Paper to address some of the aspects of the internet which, to non-users, make it seems like the Wild West. And our Online Centres, and many others, are doing great work to tackle the barriers and support people to use digital safely.

At the launch event, we were lucky to be asked to run a session focussed on the stories behind the stats – whilst the stats presented in today’s report clearly make a huge impact, it’s the stories that really drive the message home. Whether it’s people like Jean from Thanet, who is retired and was really frightened about “someone pinching [her] identity” online, but is now confidently using digital, and seeing the huge benefits it can provide. Or Shirley, who was very cautious about being online, until she took some Learn My Way classes which taught her how to stay safe online – and she has already identified a couple of scams.

To further the progress highlighted in Lloyds’ report today, we must address people’s fear and motivate them to see how digital can change their life for the better. We know this better than anyone as this is really our bread-and-butter, and alongside our partners – particularly in the Online Centres Network – we’re helping people break down the barriers they put up between themselves and a better, more digitally included, future.

So while the report does make for some depressing reading, it provides a real opportunity – the more we know, the more we can do. And with so many engaged and energetic people in one room this afternoon – and many more supporting this agenda across the country – I know we can tackle some of these barriers.

Original source – Helen Milner

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