Disadvantaged missing out as digital divide deepens

Those who are out of work, in poor health, live in social housing, live alone, or have a low level of qualification are being set at a further disadvantage by digital exclusion.A full 75% of people counted as socially excluded are also digitally excluded.

That means they're missing out on the opportunities, choices, savings and services computers and the internet provide, and that other people consider a normal and integral part of their everyday lives.

The news comes in a new research report from UK online centres and researchers FreshMinds. The research - Understanding digital inclusion - identifies the digital divide not just as a wide problem but as a deep one, with those still stuck on the wrong side more deeply excluded and harder-to-reach than ever before.

Helen Milner, Managing Director of UK online centres, says: "I believe this report is a comprehensive view of what 'digital divide' actually means in 2007.

It's a term we've been bandying about for a while, but it's more relevant and more urgent today then at any time in the last ten years. Technology is opening new doors and new worlds for 61% of the population, connecting them to better paid jobs, instant information, new forms of communication and social interaction, community infrastructures, government services, consumer power and convenience. But for a stable 39%, those benefits remain firmly out of reach.

And it's unacceptable those already at a disadvantage are three times more likely to be the ones missing out."

The report brings together information from more than 80 sources, including research into digital skills, ICT usage and internet penetration from the Office of National Statistics, Ofcom, the Oxford Internet Institute, and government departments. It's the first time the complex factors of non-ICT use and the correlation between digital and social exclusion have been comprehensively mapped.

The research, which has already informed the Government's upcoming Digital Strategy Review, will be officially launched at a Parliamentary Reception on 10 July. Perhaps it's most worrying message for politicians and industry leaders is that movement on the digital divide has stalled. It shows neither market forces, demographic change nor government policy are making a significant difference to the divide, with only marginally more people online today than in 2004.

Helen Milner continues: "What's clear from the research is this isn't a problem which is just going to go away. It's time MPs and policy-makers realised digital inclusion isn't a small fish. Digital equity is tied up with social equity, and digital inclusion is a matter that matters - not just for individuals but for wider economic and social goals.

It's key to the success of the transformational government programme, to the implementation of Leitch's recommendations, and to the health of British industry.

"At UK online centres we welcome the creation of the new Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, because it puts adult skills and the importance of innovation in promoting them back up the political agenda. But to really make an impact on today's digital divide, responsibility cannot rest with one sector alone. The public, private and third sectors must work together in order to affect the level and pace of change now needed to achieve digital inclusion.

"I'm looking forward to seeing new government Ministers take real notice and ownership of digital inclusion, and to working with policy officials, industry and charity stakeholders to define real objectives and actions. This research gives us both the information and opportunity to make a significant difference to the digital divide. Let's make sure those who stand to benefit most from technology are not left behind."