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Pandemic risks worsening digital divide – BT

Saf Malik
October 21, 2020

Lack of digital skills has impacted mental health, research suggests

Around a third of adults in the UK think more needs to be done t improve people’s ability to use online technology, a new survey revealed.

The coronavirus pandemic risks worsening the digital divide, with some, particularly younger people, saying a lack of digital skills has impacted their mental health during the outbreak.

Research commissioned by BT to coincide with Get Online Week (Oct 19-26), an annual event to improve people’s digital skills and make sure that everyone can enjoy the benefits of being online.

Get Online Week organiser, Good Things Foundation defines basic online skills as being able to do things such as use an internet search engine, send and receive emails and use online forms.

Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index previously estimated that 9 million people in the UK can’t use the internet or their device without help, and 4.7 million people don’t have any digital skills at all.

The pandemic has added to this, leaving people isolated from the rest of the digital population, thus increasing the digital divide.

The survey suggests that the impact on people’s health and wellbeing due to barriers accessing technology has been experienced most by younger people. 40 per cent of 16-24-year-olds and 43 per cent of 25-30-year-olds said their wellbeing had been impacted due to a lack of digital skills or online access during lockdown compared to 10 per cent of over 55s.

Access to online services has become more important than ever during the pandemic with millions working from home and video calling helping keep people in touch. Online shopping has also been a lifeline for many.

According to the survey, however, more than 15 per cent of 16-24-year-olds reported not being confident doing their weekly food shop online and 20 per cent said they weren’t sure if they could pay their bills online.

With the impact set to continue, 28 per cent of people admitted feeling more anxious about staying in touch with friends or family or feeling isolated due to a lack of digital skills. Younger people (47 per cent) appear to be worrying most while only 13 per cent of over 55s felt the same.

In terms of online safety, over 50s were the most assured when it came to online activity with half saying they are confident in making strong passwords for their accounts. However, 21 per cent of the UK worry about their online accounts being hacked.

BT Group director of digital impact professor Kerensa Jennings said: “Now more than ever, we need to help improve digital literacy and access to technology, for everyone.

“While we don’t know how the situation will evolve, our free Skills for Tomorrow programme is helping ensure people can have access to the right resources to learn vital skills to help them stay connected during this period. Even small improvements can empower people with the confidence to order their groceries online or stay in touch with loved ones.

“We all have a part to play in ensuring everyone has access to the technology they need.”

Good Things Foundation chief executive Helen Miller added: “This new research highlights just how critical events like Get Online Week are to improve digital literacy across the UK.

“It also shows that all age categories are at risk of being isolated during lockdown due to poor digital skills, even the generation we consider ‘digitally native’.

“For the sake of the 9 million people who struggle to use the internet independently, it’s time for us all to work together to Fix the Digital Divide.

“Our economy will benefit by £1.92 billion if we invest in a Great Digital Catch Up, supporting 4.5 million people to cross the Digital Divide. With help from the government, and by coming together as a community, we can all take responsibility to ensure our loved ones are ready to face extended self-isolation and lockdown measures in the coming months, so no one is left behind.”



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