Over 12 million people and a million small businesses in the UK lack the basic digital skills needed to succeed in an era dominated by technology.
This is according to research conducted by digital skills charity Go ON UK, which has released a Digital Exclusion Heatmap showing which areas of the UK are most lacking in digital skills.
Areas lacking broadband access have the lowest level of basic digital skills, identified by Go ON UK as being able to use online services and digital technology to manage information, solve problems, communicate, create documents and carry out transactions.
These five areas cover using email and social media for communication, and the ability to apply online for government services such as Universal Credit and to manage an online bank account.
The survey of 4,000 people nationwide found that Wales is the most lacking in digital skills, with only 62 percent of adults having the five basic skills.
Only 75 percent of Wales has access to the internet, so there is a direct correlation between broadband coverage and digital skills levels.
Unsurprisingly, more connected areas, such as London, have a higher level of digital skills and thus lower digital exclusion whereby people without the right skills are left behind as more tasks become reliant on digital technology and services.
Greater London has the highest level of digital skills at 84 percent, compared with 81 percent in Scotland and East Anglia.
Rachel Neaman, Go ON UK chief executive, explained that the UK is experiencing a digital skills crisis. “12.6 million adults, 1.2 million small businesses, and over half of all charities lack the basic digital skills needed to succeed in today’s digital age,” she said.
“Digital competency is an essential skill for everyone and we believe that without urgent action the nation’s lack of basic digital skills will continue to hold back economic growth, productivity and social mobility.”
The map has been based on data from Go ON UK’s Basic Digital Skills UK report. Predictably, as the age of respondents increased fewer had the basic level of digital skills. Only 43 percent of people aged 65 or above have the skills.
The report also found that men have a slightly higher percentage of digital skills compared with women at 80 percent and 74 percent respectively.
However, the gap between the genders is much narrower in London, where 84 percent of men against 83 percent of women have basic digital skills. This is somewhat indicative of how connectivity and access to technology facilitated by a major metropolis can affect digital skills.
The government’s rollout of superfast broadband will provide more widespread connectivity that could improve the UK’s overall level of digital skills.
Author’s view: Initially, Go ON UK’s map and report does not uncover any surprising information. However, it does highlight how a lack of even broadband coverage can hamper the development of digital skills.
The coalition and new Tory governments have bemoaned a lack of digital skills in the country and encouraged technology companies to get involved in helping plug the skills gap, but it seems that the government could be doing more itself.
An accelerated rollout of superfast broadband and ensuring that everyone has access to even slow services would go some way to developing more digital skills in areas currently lacking.