Yesterday was that time of year again – the release of the ONS’s quarterly statistics on internet access. I was really pleased to see the announcement getting lots of media coverage, which I think shows digital inclusion really is back on the agenda – always a positive thing!
The headline figure released yesterday is that there are still 7.1 million people – or 14% of UK adults – who have never been online before. This represents a decrease of a million over the past year, but is still a pretty big figure. As you might expect, 99% of people aged 16 – 24 have been online before, but this decreases to just 35% among the over 75s. Even more shockingly, 53% of the 7.1 million people who are offline have a disability – a figure that is rising with every quarterly release from the ONS. I hope at Online Centres Foundation we’re beginning to provide a solution to these figures, establishing specialist Disability and Older People’s networks that can offer the tailored support these groups need, but this kind of support doesn’t come cheap, and significant investment will be needed to scale it up to address anything like the size of groups detailed yesterday.
As I say everytime I see the ONS release pop up, the figures are definitely moving in the right direction – but they’re not moving fast enough. I’ve blogged a lot recently about investment for digital inclusion – and I want to avoid sounding like a stuck record – but I think yesterday’s announcement just goes to show we need to do more and more quickly. Let’s not forget about the size about the prize here. Investment in supporting these hard to reach groups will not just lead to significant cost savings for the government, but will be an investment for the good of the nation, for a competitive advantage for companies big and micro, and most importantly, for people – who will be able to save money, who will be able to better access information and who will feel more connected, all as a result of their new digital skills. This is why I’m still impatient for bigger and quicker results.