Nearly one in four adults â around 12 million people â do not have basic online skills, according to a report that reveals considerable regional differences in digital exclusion. According to the study, people in London, Scotland and East Anglia were most adept online, while people in Wales are the least digitally skilled.
Baroness Martha Lane-Fox, who founded Lastminute.com, said that poor digital skills was holding the UK back. âWe should be striving to be the most digitally forward nation. I think thatâs going to be essential â the internet is not going to be less pronounced, it is going to get more,â she said.
âThe fact that millions of adults cannot do four things online we deem as the lowest level of entry to the internet not only holds them back, but also holds the country back. I would argue thatâs partly why we have the productivity challenges we do. The people who can benefit most from these things are also the most excluded.â
The research is based on polling by Ipsos Mori of 4,000 people aged 15 and older in Great Britain and Northern Ireland about their abilities online. The charity Go ON UK, which Lane-Fox chairs, and Lloyds Banking Group asked about five basic skills: managing information, communicating, transacting, problem-solving and creating. The report found that adults in London are most likely to be able to do all five (84%), followed by Scotland and East Anglia (both 81%), while Wales had the lowest proportion (62%).
The data has been combined with a number of other social indicators by Go ON UK in partnership with the BBC, the Local Government Association and the London School of Economics. The result of that work is a heatmap of digital exclusion.
Likelihood of digital exclusion is ranked on nine tiers, with nine indicating high likelihood and one indicating low. A high proportion of the areas awarded a score of nine are in Wales and remoter parts of Scotland. These include Conwy, Anglesey and Pembrokeshire, as well as the Shetland and Orkney islands.
North Lincolnshire, Shropshire and Northumberland all scored eight out of nine, making them the local authorities with the highest level of digital exclusion in England.
The areas getting the lowest score of one, or the ones with the highest levels of digital inclusion, are concentrated in the south of England. These include Woking, Guildford and Slough, as well as most London boroughs. Bradford, Aberdeen, Warwick and Edinburgh are among the exceptions to this rule.
Lane-Fox said that it was not just an issue about infrastructure, but a âcomplex grouping of thingsâ. âWhat youâre seeing in the heatmap is infrastructure in some areas, but in other areas where there is good access there are low levels of skills, and that is to do with socio-demographics â itâs a complex picture.
An areaâs final score is based on several key indicators, including age, income, infrastructure, the digital skills level of the area and how often those skills are used. In some regions, a complex picture of internet use has emerged. In Manchester, for example, 79% of adults have the five basic digital skills, but only a third have used them in the past three months.
Ellen Helsper, associate professor at the London School of Economics, who developed the methodology behind the map, said: âThe Go ON UK Digital Exclusion Heatmap is a wake-up call. It shows clearly how social and digital exclusion are closely related. The lack of basic digital skills and access in already disadvantaged areas is likely to lead to an increase in inequality of opportunity around the UK.â
A BT report last year estimated that the value of digital inclusion for a new user was £1,064 per year, which increases to £1,756 for those with advanced skills.
The digital skills report shows that nine out of 10 people can manage common tasks such as using a search engine, sending an email or instant message, and buying items from a website.
However, 27% of people can not buy and install apps, and 28% cannot solve problems using online help. The majority (57%) of adults are able to create something new from online images, music or video.
How often people use these skills varies too. In the three months before the survey, 78% managed information online, while just half of British adults created something digitally.
Methodology Ipsos Mori conducted face-to-face interviews with 4,000 people aged 15+ in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.