Excerpts of the research, which the Rural Services Network have been quoted as contributing to, can be found below:
From looking for jobs to accessing welfare benefits or arranging GP appointments, most of us use online public services, and this has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
But across the UK, some people are missing out on the benefits that can come from doing things online. This experience, widely described as ‘digital poverty’ happens when someone is unable “to interact with the online world fully, when, where and how they need to” (Digital Poverty Alliance).
It can be even more difficult for people living in rural areas, where other barriers could be limiting access to alternative, in-person options. Through a survey, interviews and a workshop with policy stakeholders, we have built up a picture of the ways in which affordability, access and confidence contribute to experiences digital poverty among rural communities in the North West of England.
This blog explores the key findings of our research including:
- Older people and individuals on lower incomes were more likely to experience digital poverty. 16% of respondents had trouble doing things they wanted to do online , and this this rises to 28% among respondents of aged 65 years and over and 32% of those whose household income is £20,000 or less
- 28% of the entire sample lack a form of digital skills and this rises to over half of those aged 65 and above
- Looking for work or applying for jobs online was the skill that most respondents lacked confidence in at 26% of the survey sample
- 13% of the sample have poor quality or no Wi-Fi and 1 in 5 have no mobile broadband
- 19% of the survey sample exhibited some form of cost barrier, whether in relation to broadband access, mobile phone contract data or access to devices.
Our research found that digital poverty presents in specific instances, that individuals experience as specific challenges they face in using digital technology and navigating the online world. Whether it is applying for Universal Credit online or engaging with digital health services, interventions must be framed around these specific ‘touch points’ in order to mitigate the risk of excluding residents of rural communities from making full use of online public services.
For regional policymakers
- Job websites and recruiters should work with local authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and other partners to conduct outreach with rural residents with low confidence in looking for jobs online to improve accessibility and user experience
- Local authorities should harness social value investment from commissioned large-scale connectivity partnerships, to target educational outreach to the rural residents at the greatest risk of digital poverty, equipping them with the key skills needed to search and apply for jobs online
- Local authorities should collaborate with third and private sectors to undertake peer-to-peer outreach to boost confidence of rural residents in accessing digital services.
For national policymakers
The Rural Services Network contributed to Roundtable discussions as part of the research for this report.
Rural Digital Connectivity is one of the Revitalising Rural key topics and you can find out more about our asks of Government at this link:
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