The pandemic and the digital divide in Britain

09 Mar 2021 | Research & Business Knowledge

March 23rd 2020 signalled the start of a seismic change in many aspects of British life. Being significantly home bound for long periods of lockdown has meant that most households are relying far more heavily on the IT devices they own and their ability to get the most out of them. Both have become increasingly divisive issues. Although important for entertainment and social engagement, technology skills and access are far more fundamental when it comes to effective home working and children’s education, not to mention access to a wide range of services.

Amongst 18+ adults, our own Customers in Britain annual survey reported huge increases in the usage of and confidence with all mainstream communications technologies and Apps in our May 2020 survey of 1,000 adults. For example, by May almost half of all working adults were using video meetings for work more often than in early March, and 52% were ‘more confident’ in doing so over these first 2 months of lockdown. Such upskilling is certainly needed, as many employers and employees report that they are planning for and expecting far more homeworking long term, post-pandemic.

No alt text provided for this image

Home education too has seen many success stories, despite the pressures on families in cramped spaces or without the IT resources or connectivity for kids to succeed. Indeed the ‘2-class Britain’ in terms of the technology divide has been one of the big media stories of recent months. In response to Government targets for laptop provision where needed falling badly short, we now have England rugby star Maro Itoje campaigning to narrow the digital divide to help IT-denied kids to complete their schoolwork 

OFCOM reports that those ‘not online’ equates to 13% (1 in 8) of UK adults (2019). These are skewed heavily towards those aged 75+, who in most cases don’t want to access the web, and DE households. But the data undoubtedly hides a far wider issue: that school aged kids in poorer households with less internet access, combined with less developed habits of online learning, will be increasingly be left behind. Naturally there is a great concern to get kids back into school as soon as possible.

Hence on the one hand the pressures to digitally upskill to ensure education and career success will intensify in coming years, whilst on the other closing the digital divide is likely to remain a major challenge for Government and society.