Around 10 million people in the UK can’t access or use digital technology. Image: Pexels
In association with O2
The overwhelming majority of the UK public believes digital access is vital in finding and securing a job, exclusive Big Issue research has revealed.
Around 91 per cent of people said being able to afford the internet – whether through computers and broadband or smartphones and data – and having the skills to use it was key for those seeking employment.
But roughly 10 million people in the UK can’t access or use digital technology – which has become the primary platform for recruiting staff across nearly every sector – according to Lloyds Bank research. That is nearly 10 times the amount of job vacancies currently open across the country.
“The pandemic exposed and exacerbated the deep digital divide that we have in the UK,” said Helen Milner OBE, group chief executive of Good Things Foundation. “All internet users realised during lockdowns just how essential the internet is to their lives.”
Just four per cent of people said the internet wasn’t important in looking for work, according to the Big Issue-commissioned YouGov study – an independent poll in association with O2 – which surveyed more than 1,660 adults on February 1 and 2.
The poll was carried out days after the Department for Work and Pensions announced that universal credit claimants would have just four weeks, reduced from three months, to find a job in their field or face punitive sanctions.
Around two million households struggle to afford broadband and smartphone services, Ofgem analysis showed. As many as 300,000 families were disconnected from the internet between 2020 and 2021 as a result of being in arrears.
“This important public polling shows that it is impossible to look for and secure work without digital skills and affordable access to the internet,” Milner added. “This will affect the poorest people the hardest, and yet again those with the least will miss out on the opportunities available.”
Millions of people lack “the most basic digital skills to function in today’s society,” she said. “This isn’t a small problem. Combined with the cost of living crisis, there’s no doubt that the government, businesses and charities like Good Things Foundation need to work in partnership to fix the digital divide as quickly as possible.”
Around 88 per cent of respondents also said digital access was important for managing money and staying connected with friends and family. Campaigners have warned that the UK’s growing digital divide keeps many locked out of essential services and support, with vulnerable groups worst affected, and the soaring cost of utilities meaning some could have to choose between their internet connection and staying warm.
“Access to broadband is vital to the prosperity of families and businesses, yet the government is failing to ensure that broadband rollout gathers pace and reaches cut-off communities,” Lucy Powell, Labour’s shadow secretary for digital, culture, media and sport, said in response to the new research.
“The rising cost of living on the Conservatives’ watch means that families are finding it harder to make ends meet, and millions are struggling with rising broadband bills. It’s vital that ministers take action to narrow, not widen, the digital divide.”
Care leavers, older people on low incomes, disabled people who need assistive technology and people who do not speak English as a first language are particularly at risk of a digital exclusion double-whammy – both struggling to use technology and being without the money to afford it.
“This important and timely research highlights the bind that so many people across the country find themselves in,” said Neil Cowan, policy and campaigns manager at the Poverty Alliance.
“Told by the UK government that work is their best route out of poverty, yet lacking the digital skills to access employment, too many people are being locked into poverty.
“It is critical policy makers not only tackle the digital exclusion that so many people experience, but also ensure that even people without digital skills can access decent, secure employment that loosens the grip of poverty on their lives.”
Around 75 per cent of people said digital inclusion was a big part of managing one’s health, including making GP appointments, as well as keeping up to date with Covid-19 safety measures.
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