Of 1,200 Scottish Citizen Advice Bureau clients surveyed 34% had no or limited ability to use the internet, 20% could only access it via smart phone and 21% do not have an email. The report shows a significant level of digital exclusion, which means people are not getting the support they need.
64% of benefit claimants said they needed help to apply for their benefits online. Having key public services online without an alternative option (such as paper forms or a telephone service) excludes those who cannot or have no access to the internet.
Citizens Advice Scotland’s Policy Manager Keith Dryburgh said: “Although the sample for this survey cannot be said to represent the Scottish population as a whole, it nevertheless indicates that Scotland is not yet at a stage where key services like social security and justice can be moved entirely online without excluding a significant proportion of society from them.”
Barriers to Digital Inclusion
A small portion of people cited phone and broadband costs as barriers to internet use, 41% in rural areas reported poor broadband connectivity as a hindrance. 64% said that it was a lack of training and support in using the internet that stopped them going online, making it the leading cause of digital exclusion. Fewer than two in five (38%) could undertake online form related tasks without any assistance.
Age appears to be a factor in digital exclusion with only 1% of respondents aged between 18 and 24 years reported that they never use the internet, compared to 46% of those aged between 65 and 79.
One respondent said: “I am 73 years old. I have no IT skills and I worry each time I contact government agencies and am told to ‘look online’ or ‘fill in a form online’ as I have neither the skills or equipment to do this.”
Accommodation can also be a barrier, another respondent said: “I have struggled to get online, which is difficult as the jobcentre wants me to go on my universal credit account every day! This is especially bad as I’ve been really busy with finding a flat as I’m homeless and the jobcentre doesn’t get it.”
An Ongoing Challenge
Digital exclusion is an ongoing challenge for all service providers and organisations looking to lessen the digital divide. While the provision of free training opportunities will help to decrease the gap, this will not address the issue of cost and access to the internet.
The report concluded recommending that key public services should continue to have alternative options such as having contactable telephone numbers and several public access points where people can request paper forms and speak directly to someone face-to-face.