An introduction to digital exclusion

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    What is digital exclusion?

    The definition of digital exclusion has changed over the years.

    Previously, a digitally excluded person was someone who did not have access to the internet. But it has since grown to look at more than just internet usage.

    Broadly defined, digital exclusion is where a section of the population has continuing unequal access and capacity to use digital technologies that are essential to fully participate in society.

    Digital technology covers not just the internet, but also computers and laptops and other digital devices like smartphones and tablets.

    This unequal access and capacity to technology stops digitally excluded people from having access to information and resources they may want or need.

    For some, it is a lack of confidence in digital knowledge, or a fear that they may be a victim of cyber crime such as fraud, hacking or viruses. Other people may simply have to idea where to start online.

    What is the impact of digital exclusion?

    A person’s life can suffer greatly from a lack of digital literacy and access, which can result in worse health outcomes, a shorter life expectancy, more loneliness and social isolation, and restricted access to employment and education.

    It may also include paying higher prices for necessities, financial isolation, or a higher danger of falling into poverty. As more government and health services move online, those who are digitally excluded also lack a voice and visibility in contemporary society.

    Those already at a disadvantage – whether due to age, disability, education, income, or unemployment – are also most likely to be missing out, only expanding the social inequality gap.

    Health and wellbeing

    Health inequality in the UK is a major issue: people living in deprived areas tend to have a lower life expectancy and be at higher risk of poor health.

    People without digital skills are the group already most likely to experience health inequalities.

    Four in five GPs have expressed concern about patients whose access to remote services may be impacted by digital illiteracy, disability, internet connection, language, or location.

    Digital tools can help people take charge of their own health and make choices that are right for them. 37% of adults in the UK use the internet to manage their physical health.

    Improved digital health skills can also greatly benefit the delivery of frontline services, reducing pressure on the NHS through online services like appointment booking and repeat prescription requests.

    Jobs and money

    Digital and financial inclusion are closely intertwined; those who can’t use the internet can’t use online banking tools and services.

    Being successful in today’s employment market requires strong digital abilities, both for finding jobs and moving up the corporate ladder.

    Businesses believe that employees should have at least a basic degree of digital literacy, and 76% believe that a lack of digital literacy will negatively impact their company’s profitability.

    Who is most at risk of digital exclusion?

    The frequency of digital exclusion is not divided evenly across the UK. Certain people are more likely to be digitally excluded, including older people, people who are not working, people who are most financially vulnerable and those who have an impairment that limits their use of digital services.

    A recent OFCOM study showed that the groups more likely to not have the internet at home – and therefore most at risk of digital inclusion – were people aged 75 and over, people on low incomes and those who are unemployed, but as we’ll explore in the next module, the answer to this question isn’t as cut and dried as it initially seems.

    What are the four main barriers to digital inclusion?

    There are four main kinds of challenge that people face to going online.


    Not everyone has a device that is able to connect to or access the internet, such as a smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC.


    Lacking the skills in how to browse the internet or even not understand or knowing how to use a device. This could be because they have never had the opportunity to learn or they’ve always had someone else to do it for them. Technology may just be a new thing for the individual or they may have a disability that has hindered their ability to use.


    Lacking the motivation to be included and to use a device or even browse the internet can affect an individual massively. They may feel that they’ll never understand how to use internet or feel like they have no need due to people around them doing it for them. The individual may also lack the want to use the internet or a device.


    Trusting the internet itself can be an issue for an individual as they may feel unsafe having their personal details online. They may worry about being scammed or hacked. An individual may also not trust who is showing them how to use the internet or digital device as they may feel that they don’t know the person well enough or they just simply lack the confidence to trust someone to help them without taking advantage.

    Last updated:  24th April, 2024


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