It’s that time again, and this morning we’ve all been keenly waiting for the release of the latest ONS figures that show how many people in the UK have never accessed the internet. As we were hoping, it’s good news – the number of people who have never used the internet before has decreased to 8.2 million, down 229,000 on the previous quarter.There are a few interesting things to note amongst today’s figures. The largest decrease in any age group was amongst those aged 55 – 64. I think this supports what I was talking about here last week – that more and more often, people of this age are losing their jobs and realising they don’t have the vital skills they need to get back into work. Unemployment figures have risen again this quarter, and now stand at a 16 year high. With 72% of employers saying they wouldn’t interview someone who was offline, using computers and the internet has never been more important if you’re looking for work.
Another important and worrying figure has emerged from today’s release- just under half of the 8.2 million offline people – 3.98 million – are disabled adults. This represents 34.5% of the toal disabled population – a huge and disturbing proportion. These are people who, I believe, could benefit the most from the possibilities the internet has to offer. Unfortunately, it seems they’re still being left behind by technological advances and today’s figures prove there is still a vast amount of work to be done to help them get online. Of course, I’m all about action and not just words, and so in April we’ll be launching a Specialist Network of centres who will specifically support those with a disability to gain computer and internet skills, which we hope will have a huge impact on these communities. So, while the figures are positive, and at UK online centres we’re certainly proud of our contribution to them, this is no excuse for us to rest on our laurels. We need to continue working harder, thinking smarter and doing more to bring this figure down and ensure we continue closing this gap and sharing the benefits of being online with everyone.