The digital divide in the UK has narrowed in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic forced people to use more online tools, Ofcom found, although many households remain offline.
The share of homes without internet access appears to have fallen from 11 percent in March 2020, when the UK shut down, to 6 percent of homes in March 2021.
While this is mostly good news, the 6 percent of homes that will remain offline – which equates to about 1.5 million households – probably even more powerless than before, Ofcom said.
This is because the general need for internet access has increased significantly as services and even working life went online during the pandemic. The groups least likely to have Internet access at home are the over-65s, low-income households and the most financially vulnerable.
Almost half of adults who stay offline find the internet too complicated or interesting for them. Meanwhile, for more than a third of people, the lack of equipment is a barrier.
About six in ten of those who don’t use the Internet at home say they’ve asked someone to do something online for them in the past year. Among these “proxy users”, the most common need was help buying something.
However, adults with previously limited digital skills were found to have embraced online shopping, digital banking and video calling, while younger people acted as IT support and helped older or less digitally confident friends and relatives connect.
In addition, almost all children of school age had online access at home; During the pandemic, 4 percent relied exclusively on mobile internet access, while 2 percent could only go online with a smartphone.
School-age children from the most financially vulnerable families (5 percent) were more likely than those in the least financially vulnerable households (2 percent) to be mobile only.
“For many people, lockdown will leave a lasting legacy of improved online access and better digital understanding,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s strategy and research group director.
But for a significant minority of adults and children, the digital divide is only widening.
“We will continue to work with the government and other partner organizations to promote digital literacy and ensure that people of all ages and backgrounds are empowered to share in the benefits of the Internet.
” In March of this year, the Ada Lovelace Institute warned that Covid-19-specific technology, such as contact tracking apps, could exacerbate the digital divide.