The latest ONS stats and the true state of the online nation

I’m a bit behind as they were released last week, but being a bit of a stats nerd I just wanted to share the latest figures from the ONS which reveal the state of the offline nation, with 15% of adults in the UK (7.4 million people) still never having used the internet – 69% who are over 75, and 53% who have some kind of disability.

I’m also very impressed that the ONS have done an infographic to launch the stats last week.

It’s always interesting to see these statistics, and of course it’s great news that the numbers of offline people are going down, but it’s important that we remember that these aren’t necessary showing us the full story. There are an additional 8 million who might have been online before, but just don’t have the skills to get any real benefit from the internet. The BBC’s Media Literacy research released last year contains a lot more information about this group.

These are the people that it’s important we don’t forget about in the coming months and years, with the launch of Universal Credit, and many more government services that will be digital by default. Just because someone has been online before, or is even able to check their emails and Facebook, doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to complete transactions for Government or be able to check their bank balance or manage their money online.

Getting people to use a computer once isn’t enough – we need to make sure we’re supporting them to become confident internet users as well. To this end, we’re launching a new package of courses in April that we hope will become the next step on from Online Basics, supporting people to do the things they need to become real digital citizens – and really take advantage of what the internet can offer.

With 53% of people who are offline having a disability initiatives like our Disability Specialist Network still seems like a very good idea. There are many great partners in our disability network, but here are three who are worth a shout out: West Harton Action Station, Cambridge Online, and Sunderland Sandwich Bar who help people with learning difficulty to use the internet. Looks like we’ve all got more to do though if more than half of everyone who has never been online has a disability.

It’s only when we support the whole nation to be confident internet users that we can say we’re a truly digital nation.

Starting something new online – doing my bit!

It’s week four of our Start something campaign, challenging everyone to leave failed New Year’s resolutions behind and Start something online instead.

I just wanted to make it clear that this does mean EVERYONE. Including me! (I say with at least a little trepidation).

It’s not just about people who have never touched a computer before. This is also a campaign for people who know a little but not a lot, people stuck in a technology rut, or people who just love it all so much they can’t wait to try the next thing!

I like to practice what I (and OCF) preach, and it just so happens I LOVE starting anything new online! So honour-bound by our campaign, I’ve started to keep fit online.

Now sitting in front a computer may not seem immediately to be a good way to keep fit, but it really is proving surprisingly useful. Now there’s all the usual stuff about finding healthy recipes, calculating your BMI on etc etc, but now keeping fit online has gone mobile. It’s got Apps! And as we all know, an App a day keeps the Dr away. Or something.

Now my latest App is called My Fitness Pal (other brands available, I’m sure). Okay, we’re not that pally yet – in fact it’s something of a nag – but it does some quite amazing stuff. There’s all the calorie counting you’d expect, but it also helps you track your exercise, and attempts to motivate you to do more! I won’t bore you with the details, but I will share three things I’ve learnt since I’ve started:

1. 115 minutes of cleaning burns a frankly astonishing amount of calories (though it doesn’t get it any further up my list of favourite activities)

2. An apple only has 80 calories

3. And dog walking is considered ‘moderate’ exercise (My Fitness Pal has has obviously never met my Bob!)

These may not be earth-shattering slices of knowledge, but I’m learning, and one of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how much there is out there to learn, and how the internet can open it up to everyone. Whatever your hobby, whatever your interest – and whatever your level of skill – you can start something new online RIGHT NOW, that could change your life. It might just make me a bit healthier. But it might get someone else in contact with family friends. It might get someone else their dream job. And it might help someone else to be less isolated.

If everyone involved in and by our campaign learns just three things, that’s a lot more knowledge in the world. And if everyone who starts something online finds it changes their lives for the better – even in the smallest of ways – that’s the biggest of wins for OCF.

Back in the office, we’ve all been starting something new online – and we’d like you to join in too. We’re asking our centres and friends to take part in our fun film, which you can see here. Send us your Start something pics or clips via Twitter (#startsomethingonline) or Facebook and we’ll include them in our final edit! Just use simple piece of copy paper, and a phone.

It’s true – it’s all about location, location, location

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in the same way as I spend most of my weeks – going out and talking to partners about what we do as an organisation. A few of the meetings I’ve had recently have made me think about how people perceive the UK online centres network – or should I say ‘wrongly perceive’ – people tell me they think of it as a network of places (much like shops) on the high street with rows of computers and staffed by paid employees. This couldn’t be further from the truth, so I wanted to paint a more accurate picture of what our network looks like.

The UK online centres network is a wonderfully diverse one, made up of a broad range of places. Yes, we do have some centres that are in fixed places, in what you might call traditional locations. But 70% of our centres aren’t – they’re in places like swimming baths, cafes, mosques, football clubs and even parks.

The network is also made up of fantastic people – 20,000 of whom are volunteers – who can take learning to places where people feel comfortable. It’s not really the place that’s important – it’s the commitment and the understanding of the staff and volunteers who know their communities and their learners, and are committed to supporting them – wherever works best. 79% of learners supported by the UK online centres network are socially excluded, and we know these kind of people are likely to be turned off by traditional learning environments, so it’s important we work hard not to exclude them any further and meeting them on their home turf and somewhere that they find familiar.

It’s really all about capacity building, and by having the right people in the right community locations, we can support this. We’ve got a great centre in Sheffield who run sessions from a computer room in their community centre – but this isn’t all they do. They run a session for an Asian women’s group at swimming baths, where the group already feel comfortable. They also set up a session at a sheltered housing scheme, training up local volunteers and supplying laptops so after a few month the sessions can now continue independently. The training they run from their “fixed” centre is only a tiny part of what they do – and this is replicated throughout our network.

A lot of the confusion is around language – we’re called UK online centres, and we often refer to our community partners as “centres”. But as a network organisation, it’s vital that we can provide leadership, support and services for a range of places, organisations and partners, wherever they might be, so that everyone can get the support they need to improve their skills.

Driving economic growth through digital inclusion

We don’t talk enough about the link between digital inclusion and economic growth, so this morning I thought I would. I was on a panel at the The Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum (PICTFOR) in cooperation with Next Gen Events Breakfast Event on Broadband which was seeking to get a range of voices and opinions.

I always quake slightly when standing up in front of a room full of people whose jobs and passions are about broadband infrastructure as I assume that they won’t care or be interested in my view that we need more balance in the debate – a bit more ‘people’ alongside the vocal ‘pipes’ constituent. But my assumption was wrong. There was lots of support for the view that everyone should be supported, encouraged – and even subsidised – to get the skills and access they need to use the internet, which made me feel very positive. It would be fair to say some people in the room were more assertive and more ambitious about the need for substantial funding for digital inclusion.

The infographic my colleague Vicky and I produced for the event (below) shows that people don’t use the internet due to:

  • Motivation: 54% of people don’t have broadband at home as they “felt didn’t need it”
  • Skills & Confidence: 22% cite lack of internet skills as the reason
  • Access for Sustained Use: Fewer than 1% said poor broadband access was the reason they’re not online. However, for some they just can’t afford the internet at home and this is a barrier to them become a frequent and sustained user.

People and Pipes: Driving Economic Growth by UKOLC

Digital inclusion for me combines policy and action on these three fronts: Motivation (raising awareness); Skills & Confidence (raising basic competence levels); and Access for Sustained Use (helping people to get information or subsidies to access the internet at home).

I rarely say we need more money for digital inclusion, but today I did. I’m asking for more balance when investing in a nation where everyone can use digital services and drive our digital economy. The £1bn – £1.5bn investment in the superfast infrastructure impact on economic growth will deliver 0.5% to our GDP The Superfast and The Furious, Policy Exchange) however we expect the contribution of digital to the GDP to increase by 4.1% in the next four years due to our use of the internet. Surely the UK needs to invest far more in helping people to use it and get sustained access to it? I also called for a focus on outcomes (people) – e.g. jobs, education, inclusion – and not just on outputs (pipes), which isn’t always the widely held view.

I know not everyone will agree with my views, but the figures are difficult to argue with. And this is a debate we will need to keep having until we get the balance right – I hope with every event like this we are getting closer to reaching that balance.