The past year has seen many people using the internet in ways they never had before lockdowns, ushering in a new era of remote working and online learning. We know anecdotally that this will have been transformative for our digital development as a nation, but the real proof comes from the data. And here we have it, the Lloyds UK Consumer Digital Index 2021. This insightful report, now in its sixth year, indicates how ‘digital’ the UK really is.
The top-line statistics paint a positive picture of a transforming nation. More people are now online – 1.5 million more, or 95% of the population compared to 92% in the previous year – and confidence in using the internet and seeking out digital services is increasing. In terms of digital capability and engagement, the UK has made five years of progress in just one. This will be due in part to increasing familiarity: on average we spent 13 hours more each week using the internet in 2020, an 11% increase on the previous year. This rise in screen time wasn’t just for office workers either; 25% of manual workers have increased their time online too.
Measuring how digital we truly are by using ‘time spent online’ is restrictive. What matters more is our confidence and the way in which digital access improves our lives. The Index shows that people have been using the internet in new ways over the past year, from having a video call to buying something from an online store. Many of these new habits are set to stay with us as the benefits have been duly noted: over 70% agreed that technology makes life easier and 60% have had a more positive time during the pandemic because they had access to digital tools.
When you work in the tech sector, what you really want to hear is how people’s lives can be better when they have digital capability and internet access. Sadly, too many still have neither and the challenges of the lockdowns will have been manifold for the digitally excluded. The Index helps us understand more about who is offline, and why, which is the first step towards designing means of helping them. It’s important not to make assumptions though. Despite preconceptions, it’s not just older people who are digitally excluded; 39% of those offline are under 60 years old and 55% are low earners of all age ranges.
Some people are offline because they simply lack the local infrastructure – they may live in rural areas where broadband connections are poor, for example – but there are many other reasons beyond lack of finances or adequate connection for people to be without the internet. Of those who haven’t used the internet in the previous three months, over 30% say they have no interest in it, while half think it’s too complicated to use and an increasing number of people are flagging security concerns as a reason to stay away.
Understanding people’s motivations is key and should help us tackle the issues with the right skills training and education, delivered in the right way – and could lead to a substantial improvement in these numbers. For example, 31% of unemployed people have low or very low digital capability compared to 19% of those in the workforce. Skills training could help them get into work – and stay there.
Those who simply can’t afford to get a device or pay for connectivity require a different set of solutions and support, but there are still things we can do. In the pandemic we developed Reboot by Nominet, an online platform that provides support and resources to the many community groups and schools who are collecting unused devices and distributing them to those in their areas who are digitally excluded.
There is also the hope that the Government’s ambitions to make the UK a leader in the digital space will result in more support for those who remain offline. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) recently launched its 10 Tech Priorities to build back better, wanting ‘every adult to have a base level of digital and cyber skills so that no-one is left behind’, while continuing to build out the necessary infrastructure.
Change starts with data. It’s vital to understand exactly where the issues are so we can design targeted support; that’s why the Lloyds Index is so valuable to the many who are striving to drive change. This year it matters more than ever as many have – may be for the first time – recognised the power and potential of digital tools and services. We would be foolish to let this opportunity for the accelerated digital transformation of our society go to waste.
Read more about the Lloyds UK Consumer Digital Index 2021 and download the full report on the website.