It is alarmingly easy for those of us working with technology to forget that there is a world out for whom clouds are in the sky.
The fact is, outside of our rarefied technological atmosphere, in the UK around 11% of the adults have still never been online and this increases to 61% for those over 75 years old – that’s nearly nine million adults in the UK who have never been online. They and their families – often the most vulnerable households – are in danger of missing out, socially, educationally and financially.
According to the UK Online Centres: UK Jobs and the Internet Report, more than 70% of UK employers are unlikely to offer an interview to a candidate who doesn’t have basic computer or internet skills. Being online also opens up new opportunities to search and apply for work and better prices. Offline households miss out on estimated savings of £560 per year from shopping and paying bills online.
This means that vulnerable families are being made even more vulnerable by not being online. It’s vital that everyone, without exception, begins their digital journey rather than miss out on education, job opportunities and access to government and health services all available online.
Last year, the Glasgow Housing Association partnered with the Scottish Government and BT to give affordable Wi-Fi access to each of 138 homes in a single block. Residents were offered a new tablet with connection to high speed Wi-Fi access points located throughout the building, which linked back into the main BT network via a single fibre cable.
Less than half of tenants previously had internet access at home, and the results were very encouraging. Three in five tenants searched for a job online – for more than half, this was the first time they had ever done so – and three quarters of them said they saved money.
And, BT is building on this. Culture minister Ed Vaizey said, on a visit to Nunhead Library, as it announced its inclusion in a 100 centre strong new BT and Barclays initiative to bring free Wi-Fi and hands-on digital support across the UK.
He said: 'As more services become available online then increasingly libraries and other community spaces will be the place to go for people who don’t have the access or the confidence to use digital services.
'The presence of a member of staff or volunteers to help people navigate this digital space is invaluable and is one of the key things that libraries and other community spaces involved in this project have over other places that also offer Wi-Fi.'
BT and Barclays have both committed to support the implementation of the government’s Digital Inclusion strategy, which aims to reduce the number of people offline in the UK by 25% by 2016.