Digital poverty affects millions of people across the UK and the world. What is it, what causes it, and how can you join the war against it?
Our mission at WODIN (Women and Digital Inclusion) is to end digital poverty for Black immigrant women in Liverpool, Merseyside. Digital poverty is a huge problem in the UK and globally that affects millions of people, leading to social exclusion and financial deprivation. It’s an issue that isn’t talked about nearly enough.
We’re writing this article so that you (and any loved ones you might share this with) can understand what ‘digital poverty’ is and why you should care about it.
What is digital poverty?
A person experiences digital poverty when they lack access to the knowledge or tools needed to use gadgets or the internet. Because modern society relies so heavily on digital tools for work, communication, financial transactions, and more, people who are experiencing digital poverty are shut out of a lot of opportunities.
Here are a few facts that you might not know:
- Approximately 10 million people lack basic foundation-level digital skills to navigate our digital world (source).
- Over 2.6 million households in the UK do not have access to the internet (source).
- Older people are three times more likely to be offline; people with low incomes are twice as likely (source).
- 34% of benefit claimants and 31% of unemployed people have very low digital capability (source).
What contributes to digital poverty?
Digital poverty can be caused by many factors, some you might guess immediately, and some you might not.
When you picture a person who doesn’t use the internet, an elderly person often comes to mind. It’s true that older people are significantly more affected by digital poverty. This may be because they grew up in a world that didn’t rely on technology, and for whatever reason, they have not adapted to modern digital norms.
Loneliness is a huge problem amongst older populations, and digital poverty only exacerbates this. But many older people remain digitally excluded because of a combination of factors:
- There’s nobody to teach them digital skills
- They don’t know what they stand to gain from learning
- They don’t trust technology
- They aren’t even aware of what tools are out there that they don’t have access to
It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that digital poverty doesn’t just affect the elderly. These factors and more weigh on many UK citizens, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged.
When financial constraints prevent individuals and families from affording WiFi and gadgets, or when people in rural areas don’t have access to reliable internet access, there’s little they can do to join the online world. These citizens are excluded from activities that require digital tools, which can include work and school tasks.
Finally, an under-discussed group affected by digital poverty are disabled people, who are blocked from using certain websites and gadgets that weren’t designed with them in mind.
Some disabled people must pay extra to access digital tools, as they require disability aids such as screen readers. And although the numbers are growing, few organisations use captioning in their videos and alt-text in their social media or blog posts. This isn’t helped by the fact that many social media scheduling tools (which are used by a lot of organisations with a social media presence) don’t allow you to add alt-text to posts when scheduling them in advance.
What you can do to fight digital poverty
Since you’re on the internet, reading this blog post, you may well be someone who isn’t currently suffering from digital poverty. But if so, it’s still an issue that affects you.
Digital inequity leads to digital exclusion and is bad for everyone in society. It prevents people from participating in the UK economy, which therefore weakens our country financially. It prevents people from engaging socially, which makes our society more lonely.
You can’t know what brilliant people are out there ready to make a difference to society, but who are unable to do so because they don’t have the tools. It’s all of our responsibility to bring those tools and that knowledge to our community.
For starters, you’re on the WODIN website already, and we’re an organisation dedicated to fighting digital poverty. Specifically, we uplift Black immigrant women in our communities in Liverpool, Merseyside by providing them with digital tools that will help them achieve their full potential.
If you click here, you can find out about all the ways you can volunteer to support WODIN.
We’re always happy to answer questions via email: email@example.com
More generally, there are other steps you can take to strive toward digital inclusion for all. Of course, not everything is in your hands. Digital inclusion will become more possible on a national scale when the government and large organisations make it a priority, by ensuring all citizens have affordable and reliable access to WiFi and gadgets. We can support that cause by campaigning and writing to our MPs about the importance of digital inclusion.
On a personal level, look out for the people in your life who struggle with digital skills, and offer one to one help. Treat them with patience and offer them enthusiastic encouragement. Often, these people will be your elderly relatives, but not always.
If any of your old gadgets, like phones or laptops, still work or can be refurbished, donate them to a local nonprofit that will redistribute them to digitally excluded people.
Direct your digitally excluded loved ones to this WODIN web page, where they can find courses that will teach them essential digital skills. We’re always launching new courses and workshops, so follow us on social media (Instagram / Twitter / Facebook / LinkedIn / TikTok / YouTube / Pinterest) to keep up to date.