Digital inclusion means making sure people have the capability to use the internet to do things that benefit them day to day. It is often defined in terms of having the digital skills to use a computer, the ability to connect to the internet, and equal access for people dependent on assistive technology.
Technological change means digital skills are increasingly important for connecting with others, accessing information and services, and meeting the changing demands of the workplace and economy. This is leading to a digital divide between those who have digital capabilities and those who do not. What’s more, it’s those already at a disadvantage – through age, education, income, disability, or unemployment – who are most likely to be missing out, further widening the social inequality gap.
4.3 million UK residents (8%) have no basic digital skills at all, and 28% of those aged 60 plus are offline. Whilst these numbers are lower in Surrey and the South East, they still represent a considerable proportion of residents at risk of exclusion.
Alex Pullin is Woking Borough Council’s Digital Inclusion Project Officer (externally funded). His job is to ensure as many Woking residents as possible have opportunities to access technology and to build their digital skills.
Speaking about his work, Alex said: “The most common thing I hear from people is that they ‘feel left behind’. The services that they were used to accessing in person or over the phone now need to be accessed online and while for many, it's motivation to give digital a try, so many others don't have the means, the confidence or the support. I've seen people plunged into severe debt from something as simple as a change in the way their utility provider will accept payments.
“With the pace and number of services adopting a digital-first approach, it's never been more important to have the skills to get online. Users of technology can shop around for the best deals, access training to improve their employment prospects and save a lot of time and energy handling day to day tasks like booking a class, ordering a repeat prescription or doing their grocery shopping online.
“The good thing is there is plenty of help and support available from Woking library, AbilityNet, Sight for Surrey, Surrey Adult Learning, the Good Things Foundation and all manner of other organisations operating on a local and national level. And another part of my role is making sure these organisations are aware of each other and encouraging joined up working.
“I recently linked the Welcome Church with Tech to Community Connect which has trained their volunteers to deliver digital support sessions in the Welcome Church café. We’re currently helping ROC Woking with portable appliance testing so that it can continue to distribute safe, reconditioned laptops to anyone in the community in need of a device. And many of own staff are now trained ‘digital champions’ who can deliver help and support to residents they interact with regularly.
“Face-to-face support is essential to helping new users of tech take their first steps and gain confidence. For anyone that wants to get involved, AbilityNet is looking for volunteers in the Woking area to make home visits and to deliver training. The experience is really rewarding and you don't need to be a tech whiz to deliver the support, so it's open to all.”
How digitally confident are you?
Tell us about your digital skills and experience to help us understand how we can improve digital inclusion in our community and ensure that no one is left behind.
Our survey closes at midnight on Sunday 2 July 2023. Please help and encourage others to take part.