'Digital divide' is alive in UKOfcom report reveals digital divide still exists

22 March 2009

Houses of Parliament

Despite many people embracing online services there is a sizeable digital divide between those who are better off and those from areas of multiple deprivation, reveals a report by communications watchdog Ofcom’s Citizens' Digital Participation research report.

The report shows that over half of the UK’s population used the internet to access information about government or local council services or completed a government form or process online, last year.

In the report, 42% of those interviewed claimed to have looked for information online about a government or local council service, or used services such as paying their road tax or registering for Child Tax Credits online. Among people who have the internet at home, this rises to 55% who have used these services online.

However, in areas of multiple deprivation the number of people who have accessed similar online services falls to just 15%. Areas of multiple deprivation are defined by a range of factors including economic, social and housing issues.

Easier to connect?

A similar picture emerges about the ease of connecting to online services. While 60% of the general population say that the internet has made it easier to engage in citizen participation activities, such as contacting an MP or signing a petition  only 42% of those from deprived areas agree.

Awareness of online services is low, too. Among the online sample interviewed, 31% were unaware of online citizen participation opportunities. Among those from areas of multiple deprivations this climbed to a staggering 72%.

Face-to-face communication

Despite embracing online government, many people said they wanted to keep traditional ways of getting in touch. 33% of the online user sample would rather deal with someone face to face, for example, when contacting their MP. This view was expressed by 63% of people living in areas of multiple deprivation.

Those from less affluent backgrounds are less likely to trust online government service, too. Almost half (46%) of those from areas of multiple deprivation said that they did not sufficiently trust the internet for civic activities and 40% said that they lack confidence to participate in citizen activities online.

Among the online users, one in ten (9%) said that they lack confidence to participate in citizen activities online and the same proportion (9%) agreed that they don't sufficiently trust the internet for citizen activities.

Campaigning issues

However, there is a less of a divide when it comes to reasons for engaging with online government. Feeling strongly about an issue or cause is the most important reason for people to take part in citizen activities (whether on or offline) among both online users and multiple deprivation area populations (42% of online user sample and 43% of people living in areas of multiple deprivation).

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