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Digital engagement/detriment 

The Panel and ACOD believe that all consumers should be able to benefit from the opportunities and enjoyment that communications services can bring. It remains the Panel’s belief that fundamental action needs to be taken to mitigate the increasing risk of the digital divide becoming an ever greater digital gulf as the distance increases between those who are online and those who remain firmly rooted in the offline world. We live in an era in which we are seeing many Government services become “digital by default” and when being online is becoming a necessity of life rather than an optional extra.

While the advantages of online connectivity apply to all groups in the community, they are especially relevant to disabled people, those on a low income and older people, many of whom may be less mobile than younger people. And yet we know that the take-up of the digital world is unequal amongst the population. According to Ofcom’s 2015 Adult Media Use and Attitudes Report, 14% of UK adults remain not online (for any reason) and are more likely to be aged over 65, and in DE households. Two in three people aged 75+ are non-users of the internet. Internet access is also significantly lower for those consumers with a disability (65%) than for non-disabled consumers (88%). Ofcom’s recently published research on disabled consumers’ access to, and use of, communication devices and services also found that not all disabled consumers with access to communication devices and services were making personal use of them. A fifth of disabled consumers said their disability prevented their use of at least some communication devices and services, with differences seen among consumers with different disability types.

Building on our previously published Consumer Framework, which remains as current as ever, and informed by our Bridging the Gap: Sustaining Online Engagement research, the Panel has identified a number of areas for strategic focus and made a series of recommendations for Governments, policy makers and those delivering on the ground. Whilst solutions may be complex, the issue itself is straightforward: as Go ON UK note, 23% of UK adults still don’t possess the basic digital skills necessary to take advantage of technology - and it is not just individuals that are missing out on the benefits of being online. 23% of small businesses don’t have basic digital skills. The potential consequences of this exclusion are serious: for individuals, especially those who are more vulnerable; for society; for business; and for the UK economy.

Specific Objective

We will continue to place the consumer perspective, including that of people in the most deprived communities, at the heart of the digital engagement debate. We will do this by working with a range of stakeholders including Go ON UK and the Government Digital Service (GDS) so that we can help ensure that the full range of people’s digital engagement needs are being met, supported by practical consumer information, choice and truly universal fast broadband for all. We will also encourage Governments and others to ensure that there are offline alternatives provided to online public service delivery for those who are unlikely, for whatever reason, to ever undertake these processes online.

Previous work includes:

8 January 2013: Digital Engagement and Panel draft workplan - presentation by Jo Connell at Consumer Experience event pdf