As we emerge from one of the most challenging periods of this generation, the data surrounding digital exclusion is starting to catch up. This month, the North East has had a much needed spotlight shone on it. Reports from IPPR North and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) have examined who is most likely to struggle with or resist digital access, and what needs to be done to improve the digital situation in the region.
Both reports (details at the bottom of the blog) highlight that there is no one definition of digital exclusion/inclusion, and both reports choose slightly differing descriptions. Together, they cover all the essential elements:
Connectivity (infrastructure and affordability of data),
Access to devices,
Digital skills and confidence (including online safety),
Online accessibility, and
Resistance (or choosing not to use the internet).
The North East LEP unveils crucial statistics around the levels of digital exclusion in the region in comparison to the national average. For example, the proportion of people in the North East who are not online is 8% compared to 5% across of England. The number of people with low levels of digital engagement in the region sits at 32% compared to a national average of 28%. It is clear that we have a long way to go in the region to reduce digital inequalities and ensure more people can enjoy online access.
IPPR North make a strong argument for taking a rights-based approach to digital inclusion. Without digital access, many are denied equal opportunities to jobs, healthcare, education and more. This will only get worse as digital services and information are set to become a mainstay following the initiatives many organisations were forced to take during the pandemic. IPPR North also explore the benefits of moving away from a binary approach to digital access where a person is either excluded or included. Instead they suggest viewing digital inclusion as "a spectrum of digital engagement from internet access, to skills, to really being able to make use of online resources for beneficial outcomes".
These reports have highlighted that the North East is still experiencing high levels of digital exclusion. Efforts to tackle this problem would be more effective if there were greater levels of collaboration between VCSE groups, local authorities, those experiencing digital exclusion, businesses and tech companies. So let's work together to be better connected.
Access the reports below:
North East LEP: Digital Exclusion in the North East LEP Area.