Research carried out by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) found that of almost one-fifth of Brits do not use the internet, a figure previously thought to be much lower.
The detailed in-home survey – which was sponsored by the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, BT and Google – revealed that 18% of the 2,000 surveyed Brits identified themselves as non-users.
The results found that those falling into this category tended to be older and poorer than their net using counter-parts. Research fellow, Dr Grant Blank, who oversaw the project at the OII, said, “Non-users are older, proportionately less well-educated and have lower incomes”.
Blank defined non-users as those who did not go online via any device either phone or computer. He said that this group grew in volume as people got older.
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According to Blank, this survey’s figures are 18% higher than other official measures of non-users because of how the OII sampled the UK population.
Figures gathered by the Office for National Statistics suggest about 7.4% of the population are non-users but this figure is drawn from data gathered for its Labour Force Survey, he explained.
The Labour Force Survey only looked at those in work, or might be, it excluded those who did not work and other non-workers such as people with long-term disabilities or residents of care homes. While the OII survey visited individuals in their home and gathered a much more detailed view of their online lives.
“Virtually everyone is online before age 50,” he told the BBC. However, after 50 there was a “sharp decline” in use of about 2% a year.
“There are a lot of things about the internet that get less useful as you get older,” he said. For example, as people’s network of friends and interests decline they often are less motivated to spend time online.
He noted that this drop-off after 50 was not linked to a particular generation that grew up without the net. Many of those non-users could benefit from being online, he said, as the wide range of good health information could prove useful for those in the 18% group.
Blank raised concerns over the number of non-users as the UK Government is striving to move more of aid and benefit systems online, since it is those non-users who tend to require this assistance most and risk digital exclusion if they continue to shun being online.
“One of the ironies of this is that people who receive government support in various ways are people who tend to be older, poorer and less well-educated and those are exactly the people who are less likely to be online,” he said.
“That presents a dilemma for the government as making contact has to be done in the old-fashioned way which is time-consuming and expensive,” he said.
Blank said follow-up work would include exploring ways in which to reach non-users and how to best encourage them to go online.
The survey also found this additional information:
- 10% do not use the net because of privacy worries
- 40% of those earning less than £12,500 do not go online
- 70% of all respondents “uncomfortable” with targeted advertising and data tracking
- 12% have been hit by computer viruses
- 11% got abusive emails