Bridging the digital divide in Wales

A directory of organisations helping to get Welsh people online will improve the outlook for many who are already disadvantaged, writes Aoife Clark

7 April 2022

The DLR found that people who are disabled or poor are among those most likely to be digitally excluded © SHVETS/Pexels

The digital divide is the gap between people who have easy access to the benefits of digital technology and those who don’t. That gap is not new, but the pandemic widened it, when online access to services became even more important.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research, a social trends forecaster, has estimated that 6.9 million people in the UK will remain unable to get online by 2028 without help. In Wales, 7% of the population aged 16 and over are not online – at around 180,000 people, that’s a higher percentage than the rest of the UK. 

Being online gives people access to a wider – and so cheaper – range of goods and services. It also connects people to one another, reducing loneliness and isolation. Digitally excluded people are those who cannot get online because of lack of technical skills or access to the necessary technology or infrastructure. That isolation and those barriers contribute to poorer health for digitally excluded people. That means digital inclusion is a social issue – and one we should care about. 

Engaging with the digital world

Mission 2 of the Digital Strategy for Wales defines digital inclusion as “equip[ping] people with the motivation, access, skills and confidence to engage with an increasingly digital world, based on their needs”. 

The Welsh Government Office of the Chief Digital Officer recently asked the Centre for Digital Public Services (CDPS) to review what’s being done in Wales to get people online and digitally included. 

As part of its Digital Landscape Review (DLR), CDPS is surveying support available to people to get online in Wales. We’re also looking at which groups in Wales, and which locations, this support is aimed at. From this information, we’re creating a ‘digital inclusion directory’ that gives an overview of what organisations are doing across the country. 

What we’ve learned 

The DLR team have spoken to 18 organisations in recent weeks about how they’re improving digital inclusion in Wales. We have also presented our work to 3 networks that campaign for digital inclusion: Digital Inclusion Alliance Wales, Digital Services for Patients and the Public and the Digital Inclusion and Skills Programme Board. 

Here are 2 big things we’ve learned from these conversations so far: 

1. Digital inclusion is a social issue 

People who are already at a disadvantage, such as those who are poor or disabled, are the most likely to be digitally excluded. Digital exclusion only widens the social inequality gap. 

A conversation we had with one organisation, Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services, highlighted this issue. They told us about a person who risked breaking probation rules if they didn’t fill out a form online. Lacking any devices with internet access, the person would have been unable to fill in the form without the organisation’s help. 

2. Hundreds of organisations are keen to make a difference 

What’s stood out for the DLR team over the past few weeks is how much passion there is to include people, no matter their circumstances, in an increasingly digital world. Digital Inclusion Alliance Wales has more than 70 members, and hundreds of organisations have signed Digital Communities Wales’s Digital Inclusion Charter

Support includes digital training of staff and volunteers by the big, Welsh Government-funded programme Digital Communities Wales, who then pass skills on to other Welsh residents. Organisations such as Business in the Community are giving groups and individuals devices pre-loaded with a data allowance, so they don’t need to worry about a broadband connection. 

Then there are the libraries running digital training across Wales, plus programmes by local authorities to improve people’s digital skills for work. 

In Wales, 7% of the population aged 16 and over are not online, a higher percentage than the rest of the UK © Georg Arthur Pflueger/Unsplash

The full picture of digital inclusion 

The DLR team intend to finish the first version of the directory by Easter and to publish it soon afterwards. 

Getting the full picture of digital inclusion work across Wales will help to us to do 2 things. First, we’ll be able to guide Welsh Government policy to get more people online. 

Second, the directory will allow organisations involved in digital inclusion, and the people they help, to find out what else is happening nearby. That will give opportunities to share knowledge and work on projects together. 

The percentage of people who are not online in Wales has dropped from 19% to 7% in the past 6 years. We believe the digital inclusion directory can help to bring that figure down even further. 

Aoife Clark is a user researcher on the Digital Landscape Review 

Is there any digital inclusion work in Wales – or beyond – that we should know about? Tell us in the comments below 

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