Since 2016, Lloyds Banking Group have produced a Consumer Digital Index which looks at the digital behaviours of the UK and helps us to understand the ‘state’ of digital inclusion at a national level. This benchmarks the progress that regions and nations across the UK are making in supporting people online, as well as identifying trends and changes that can help to inform our work.
We’ve had a chance to digest the report and reflect on what this means for the organisations, groups, people and partnerships that we work with.
Firstly, Lloyds use the term ‘digital capability’ to describe online behaviours and benchmark change. Digital capability doesn’t necessarily describe skills, rather it’s about the interactions and uses of technology. This enables them to segment the population across different levels of capability.
99% of the UK are now online. That’s a 4% increase over the last 12 months, and a 10% increase since 2016. However, while the headline sounds overwhelmingly positive, the statistic can be misleading. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) defines anyone that has used the internet once in the last three months as ‘online’ - an issue Lloyds themselves point out in the report.
We know that meaningful digital engagement must happen regularly. To get a truer sense of the digital divide, there is argument to redefine what ‘being online’ looks like.
To get that sense of the actual picture, we can look at the state of digital capability. Across the UK, 63% of people have high digital capability. With 99% of the population accessing the internet at least once in the last three months, but 27% having very low capability, this suggests there is disparity between access and ability.
One in four people that improved their digital capability over the last 12 months were aged 60+, despite the greatest determinant of being offline being age.
What does this mean for Scotland?
Scotland’s digital capability is slightly below the UK average, with very high capability of 62%. However, Scotland is among the leaders of the UK in annual growth: we’ve boosted digital capability by 3% in the last 12 months.
This feels like an excellent opportunity to shout about some of the inspiring digital inclusion programmes that are happening across Scotland. The fantastic North West Glasgow Voluntary Sector Network has been delivering a device recycling and distribution scheme since the height of the pandemic, which has supported around 700 people to get online.
In the North, Voluntary Action Orkney has delivered support to and enhanced the digital confidence of local young people through their Digital Confidence Project.
And in the South of Scotland, stalwart projects like Castle Douglas IT Centre have enabled citizens to build their skills for years.
Why are people still offline?
Of the 1% of offline individuals across the UK (that is, those who haven’t used the internet in the past three months), 86% of them have said that being offline is a personal choice. Among those offline, only 23% said they could be tempted online if they had access to the right kit, devices and connections. This suggests that broader concerns about being online need to be addressed.
So, why are people still offline?
How does Cost of Living impact digital inclusion?
We are no longer viewing digital inclusion exclusively through the lens of the pandemic, but through a new crisis. Financial wellbeing and digital capability appear to be intrinsically linked; those with a very high digital capability seem to feel more confident about managing their finances. In fact, the most digitally engaged save on average £659 per year compared to the least digitally engaged.
However, it’s not all about savings: those with lower digital engagement have reported a year-on-year increase in stress levels about money. Digital is a financial wellbeing enabler – giving users the opportunity to check their balances, stay on top of spending and effectively manage credit. 54% of people in the UK have low financial wellbeing, demonstrating that more can be done with the link between the two.
The message here is that digital skills might help people to save money, but they also offer an opportunity for peace of mind – or at the very least, more avenues for support when it’s needed.
What about skills?
Lloyds have refreshed the Essential Digital Skills framework that is used to benchmark foundation, life and work skills, so no comparative data is available this year. The report offers a range of rich data on the skill profiles of people across the UK and is worth checking out.
The headlines, however, are positive. Although 20% of people across the UK still lack any digital skills, it is also demonstrated that 9% are ‘on the cusp’ – meaning that upskilling is clearly happening in communities up and down the country.
Scotland continues to be a leader in terms of foundation and skills for life and is ahead of the UK average generally for Essential Digital Skills. It’s important to understand that while this is an excellent result, having an Essential Digital Skill means that you can do at least one task in each of the skill areas. This goes some way towards explaining the disparity between a high incidence of skills in Scotland at the same time as having a 38% low digital capability.
There is also an interesting insight into how people choose to learn digital skills. Most people have suggested that they prefer self-led or online learning materials, like YouTube, to develop their digital know-how. However, the report also identifies new responses for 2022 including face-to-face learning and group sessions. This may be indicative of post-Covid ‘opening up’, where previously suspended or restricted services are resumed. It is also worth noting that learning preferences are linked to confidence. Those with higher levels of digital capability are more likely to prefer to learn by themselves. In short, let’s not undervalue the importance of local, trusted support in developing digital skills – it all hinges on the individual.
Some things change, some things stay the same
One of the crucial lessons from the data this year is that our approach to digital inclusion needs to take a human angle. We need to read between the lines where data is concerned.
Our interventions are clearly working. As a digital inclusion community across the UK, we have supported millions of people to get online and made the largest annual leap towards connectedness since the start of benchmarking in 2016. This report, for us, highlights something we’ve been confident about for a long time: trusted people, providing person-centred support and building confidence is the best way to encourage people to make a positive digital change to their life.
It's stark that 83% of people offline don’t feel they can be enticed to take the journey, and it raises wider ethical questions about a digital-first approach that services are keen to adopt. However, the conversation now is not just about digital inclusion – it’s about meaningful digital inclusion. It’s about understanding the needs, fears and interests of the person rather than the service.
There are lots of positives to take from this years Consumer Digital Index report, not least that people across our society are recognising how vital digital engagement is for every part of life. But for every success, there is a challenge and an opportunity to keep pushing forward.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, and the midst of the cost of living crisis, digital inclusion is as crucial as it always has been. It’s up to all of us to make sure the support is there for everyone that wants it.