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Digital exclusion

Digital exclusion is the inability to access online products or services, or to use simple forms of digital technology.  It can contribute to loneliness and involuntary social isolation as well as making it difficult to access information and services and secure employment.[1] 

Digital exclusion has the potential to exacerbate social exclusion and those who are socially excluded are less likely to use the internet and benefit from the internet applications that may help them tackle their exclusion.[1]

In 2014, the government estimated that the number of people who have never been online is decreasing at 3% a year, but the proportion of people who do not have basic digital capabilities has only been decreasing at about 1% of the adult population per year.[2]

The Government’s digital inclusion strategy (2014) identified that:

  • 37% of those who are digitally excluded are social housing tenants.
  • 17% of people earning less than £20,000 never use the internet, as opposed to 2% of people earning more than £40,000. 44% of people without basic digital skills are on lower wages or are unemployed.
  • 33% of people with registered disabilities have never used the internet. This is 54% of the total number of people who have never used the internet.
  • Over 53% of people who lack basic digital skills are aged over 65, and 69% are over 55.
  • 6% of people who lack digital skills are between 15 and 24 years. Only 27% of young people who are offline are in full-time employment.[2]

It is forecast that 90% of all jobs will soon require some form of digital capability and the UK faces a major shortage of digital skills at all levels.  Common causes of digital exclusion are:

  • Skills and the confidence to use them.
  • Access to infrastructure, fast broadband and local amenities, which can be worse in rural areas.[3]
  • Cost including devices, broadband subscription or monthly fees for mobile data.
  • Motivation and the personal aspiration that makes gaining digital skills relevant and important.

The Office for National statistics (ONS) publish annual data on internet usage in the United Kingdom.  The latest (2019) data show:

  • 91% of adults in the UK were recent internet users; up from 90% in 2018. 
  • 7.5% of adults had never used the internet; down from 8.4% in 2018. 
  • Among the 16 to 44 age groups, 99% of people are recent internet users, compared with 47% of those aged 75 years and over.  18% of disabled adults and 47% of people aged 75 and over have never used the internet, although both of these proportions are steadily falling.[5]

It is estimated that 7% of people aged 16 and over in Herefordshire last used the internet over three months ago, or have never used the internet; down from 20% in 2013 and not significantly different to the West Midlands region or the United Kingdom as a whole.[5] 

However, some groups are much more likely to experience digital exclusion.  For example, a recent survey of Telecare service users in Herefordshire (of whom there are over 1,500) found that 52% of those who responded to the survey do not use the internet.[6]

Fastershire, a partnership between Herefordshire Council and Gloucestershire County Council to bring faster broadband to the two counties, undertakes a range of activities aimed at promoting digital inclusion. 

[1] The role of digital exclusion in social exclusion, Martin, C., Hope, S. and Zubairi, S., Ipsos MORI Scotland, 2016.

[2] Government Digital Inclusion Strategy, Cabinet Office, 2014.

[3] See also Two-speed Britain: Major study reveals impact of gap in Internet access between rural and urban area, University of Aberdeen, 2 September 2015. 

[4] Internet Users - Table 1b, ONS, 2019. 

[5] Internet Users - Table 6b, ONS, 2019. 

[6] Using Telecare and technology survey, Herefordshire Council, 2019.