E-Quality? Digital disparity leaves millions behind

Woman and 2 men working at a table round a laptop

Written by Jemma Waters , Head of Responsible Transformation at Lloyds Banking Group

September 2020 – Schools are re-opening, offices are welcoming workers, and bars are back. Weddings may now be a more intimate affair, and family gatherings limited to at most 6, but rare is a situation where this ‘new normal’ does not necessitate access to devices and the confidence and capability to interact with the internet.

For millions of people across the UK, lock-down has meant being locked out;

  • Eat Out to Help Out – 23% of adults cannot fill out forms and book tables online
  • Track and Trace – 6.5m adults cannot use apps to access key tracking tools
  • Video NHS consultation – 25% can’t use video conferencing and telehealth
  • Universal Credit – 29% of people receiving benefits have low digital capability and will need support

In total, 9 million adults in the UK are unable to access the Internet or turn on a device themselves. Data poverty is a mounting issue; for those with essential digital skills, and do own their own device, the missing piece has been data connectivity. Without libraries, cafes and bank branches open with free wifi, millions were left unable to connect to the internet. Where 9m people are concerned, this isn’t something to dismiss. It isn’t ‘just the elderly’ or explicitly ‘stubborn naysayers’. It’s people like you or I, with different circumstances and different experiences. People of all ages. 9 million people who may be de-prioritised because of newer, sexier topics like growth and economic recovery.

Clearly, I’m not saying the latter isn’t hugely important, but the words growth and recovery must be looked at through the lens of humanity. Growth is about getting taller, stronger and more able. Recovery is the process of healing. A few months ago on fora like this one, digitally-capable like you and I all shared tweets and Instagram posts about learning from this experience, getting ‘back to basics’, and appreciating their neighbours and communities. Has that time already passed? Can’t we achieve commercial aims and community gains?

Maybe it’s because the voices of those offline are so much harder to hear through all of our daily noise. How do we hear from them? How can they share their views with the masses? We need to meet them where they are. Ask questions through crackling landlines, talk through breezy gaps in front-room windows, and hear headlines passed back through friends and families after small meetings of six.

It is important to listen, not least because it can help us better understand and better target efforts. All is not lost! Tens of thousands of charities and small businesses have interacted with our digital inclusion helpline with We Are Digital over the last few months and the Lloyds Bank Academy The DFE #SkillsToolkit has seen hundreds of thousands pass through its virtual doors and Michelle Ovens and the Small Business Britain team have had steady SME support on Facebook Live across the half year.

Equality has never been in sharper focus than across this year – Black Lives Matter and COVID have rightfully challenged thinking and empowered people to question the ways things have always been done. Digital enablement is another form of social inclusion and must be treated as such to ensure no-one is left behind; that’s just not fair or right. Like many of our systemic inequalities, digital inequality can no longer be something we accept.

All statistics from the Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital Index 2020 www.lloydsbank.com/consumerdigitalindex

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