In the current health climate there is a growing emphasis on social distancing (taking steps to reduce social interaction between people) and self-isolation (isolating yourself from any contact with others). Those who already experience varying levels of social exclusion are likely to feel the impact of this the most. Those individuals are also more likely to be digitally excluded and therefore not able to benefit from some of the relief that being digital can afford.

In Scotland, around one in five adults (18%) don’t have all the Essential Digital Skills they need to thrive in a digital world. 8% don’t have any of the Foundation Skills e.g. knowing how to turn on a device or interacting with the home screen.  74% of those who have none of the Foundation Skills are age 65+ and subject to stricter guidance around social distancing and self -solation.

There are wider conversations to be had, and work to be done, on how we continue to improve digital inclusion in Scotland. However, for now there are some practical steps we can all take to help those that lack digital skills to reduce the impact of social isolation. All these tips should be followed in line with the latest guidance from the government in relation to close contact with others, especially those at higher risk. Here are our top tips for supporting those who are social-distancing:

Stick to the basics

If someone has their own device but lack the confidence or motivation to use it, take the time to sit down with them and talk them through it. This approach will have limited scope depending on the extent of social distancing being used and won’t be possible when someone is self-isolating.

You may need to start with the basics and help them turn it on, understand the home-screen and explain apps. Start with a few basic apps on the home screen that help meet core needs. This could include:

  • Messaging: messaging apps can help reduce social isolation and help individuals stay connected through local groups being set up to share offers of support
  • Video calls: video calls can enhance the quality of interactions with family members who may be keeping distance for health reasons 
  • Entertainment: on-demand video content, games and e-books can help alleviate some of the boredom from being isolated or quarantined

Many of the tenants from our social housing project talked about enjoying on demand video content and being able to play games such as crosswords. Keep it as simple as possible, and limited to things that are responsive to current needs. You might even want to write down a step-by-step guide that they can refer back to when you’re not around, or use these guides from Digital Unite. 

Health information

The internet is a great source of information, but not all information is from a trusted source. Help them understand the importance of using trusted sources for the most reliable information. For information on COVID-19 show them how to use a web browser to access up-to-date information from a reliable source such as NHS Inform for people living in Scotland. You may need to show them how to interact with hyperlinks and how to click through to different sections.

To address one of the barriers to accessing up-to-date health information, Vodafone is giving their customers free access (zero data) to NHS UK, which also includes the website of NHS Scotland.

It’s also possible to order repeat prescriptions online, which can be delivered (depending on the capacity of the pharmacy) or collected by a friend or family member. Such measures can help reduce the risk of exposure for more vulnerable people.  

Although not the recommended pathway for suspected COVID-19, video consultations with the NHS through Near Me can help reduce the risk of exposure. This platform doesn’t require a specific app or an account, just a device that is capable of making video calls and an internet connection. Before exploring this as an option it’s best to check availability on the website of your local health provider and to get a link. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic the rollout of Near me has been accelerated.

Online safety

Online safety is a big concern for many of those who are offline. It can also be a concern for relatives of those who may be deemed to be ‘vulnerable’ and being online can increase their vulnerability to scams and fraud. Online hackers have exploited the panic and fear surrounding coronavirus and this article shows some examples of current scams.

Exploring online safety is fundamental when showing someone how to get online. This guide helps explain some of the basics of online safety, using analogies to explain how keeping yourself online is similar to keeping yourself safe in real life.

Self-isolation

Usually our approach is to use Digital Champions to help build skills and confidence through frequent informal sessions, over a period of time. However, this may not be possible in the current situation due to self-isolation and a sense of urgency to help people quicker than usual. If you aren’t able to help someone develop their digital skills you can still make sure that they are able to take advantage from your digital inclusion, without close contact. This might include:

  • Check if they have family that can organise an online delivery of shopping or use food delivery services, many of which will leave items on the doorstep if you’re self-isolating  
  • Talking them through some basics on how to use their device over the phone
  • Finding mutual aid groups locally through social media where people are offering help and support in the local community
  • If they have a smart phone you could make a standard phone call first, talking them through how to answer a video call, then attempting a video call
  • If they might struggle to use a tablet or laptop (possibly due to a physical impairment) they might find it easier to use a smart speaker, like Alexa or Google Home

Be creative. Think about the things you are able to benefit from online and how you might be able to share these benefits with someone who is digitally excluded and self-isolating.

To help share ideas and best practice we have set up a Digital Champions workspace on Slack. If you work in the voluntary sector, public sector or a housing association and you’d like to join our community email us at digital@scvo.org.uk .


SCVO has created an online resource with information, guidance and links to official channels on Coronavirus/COVID-19 which is updated daily. If your organisation is experiencing particular challenges as a result of the ongoing pandemic, please let us know at experience@scvo.org.uk to help inform SCVO’s work for the wider sector.