In this Viewpoint, Nicki Lyons, Chief Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Officer at Vodafone UK, explores why the digital divide must continue to be addressed collaboratively, and why it requires a flexible long-term approach. She shares how – one year on from its expanded everyone.connected strategy and the launch of its social broadband tariff – Vodafone UK is taking measures to ensure it stays close to the ever-evolving causes of the digital divide, and crucially, the experiences of those who fall on the wrong side of it.
Being disconnected in 2023 has different implications for people than it did even just a year ago. In today’s world where we are so reliant on technology and connectivity, being without connection impacts people’s lives on a daily basis. Sadly, there still isn’t equal access to connectivity, digital skills or devices for everyone.
In the UK alone, around 2 million households don’t currently have access to the internet and 10 million adults lack the most basic digital skills they need in day-to-day life.
We know there are many reasons why people become digitally excluded. For some, it’s a lack of the necessary skills required to use connectivity or tech. This isn’t just an issue that’s limited to the elderly or those who have less experience using certain devices or apps, technology is moving at such a pace that even people who consider themselves “tech savvy” in many areas, may feel left behind elsewhere.
For other people, they are digitally excluded due to a lack of access to equipment like a mobile phone, which can be due to difficult financial situations, something that has been intensified even more by the cost-of-living crisis. Some are unable to set up a broadband connection because they don’t have a permanent address.
In addition to the many causes, we know that the implications of being on the wrong side of the digital divide are just as varied. It can be difficult, frustrating, or even impossible to complete everyday tasks without access to a connection.
Imagine trying to pay a bill, find a location, make a medical appointment, or even park your car, without access to the apps or websites that make these tasks simple and quick to do.
We’ve all experienced being asked to download a new app and not understanding how to use it, or struggled as we try to pay for parking while finding the right zone information.
And it’s not just the daily logistical struggles – the impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing can be far greater. For many, without an internet connection, even staying in touch with loved ones can be hard at best or impossible at worst.
Research also shows that life is more expensive without connectivity, as people rely on being connected to save money. According to our recent research, 1-in-3 people (33%) say they are better off because they shop online, with 29% saying they have been turning to the internet more to save money during the cost-of-living crisis. In fact, families without access to the best prices and online deals stand to lose £286 a month (£3,432 a year).