Latest ONS figures released: 5.9 million have never been online

26 May 2015 |Written by Al Mathers

Last week, the ONS released the latest update from their Internet Users survey, revealing that 5.9 million people in the UK have never used the internet before. It’s always heartening to see the figure reduce (this time last year, it was 6.2 million, so we’re making progress - although it does sometimes feel like it’s a bit slow), but there’s also some really interesting insight to be picked up from the more detailed breakdowns the ONS provide.

Interestingly, the areas with the highest rates of non-users are rural ones - with Northern Ireland heading up the pack, followed by Highlands and Islands, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, West Wales and the Valleys and Lincolnshire. The results don’t tell us whether this is due to a lack of skills or a lack of available connectivity, but it’s likely both have a role to play. Rural is going to be a real focus of our efforts in the coming year, and we’ll have some helpful new resources, and news about how we’ll be supporting rural communities to deliver digital inclusion activity, in the next few weeks so do keep an eye out. We’re also running an exciting project with the Prince’s Countryside Fund to upskill rural SMEs, which we should be able to tell you more about in coming weeks so do keep an eye out. You can take a look at our existing resources for rural digital inclusion activity here.

In line with figures we’ve seen in recent years, only 68% of disabled people are online, compared to 92% of the general population. This really reinforces the need for targeted, deep-dive approaches to supporting disabled people to improve their skills, as well as a better understanding of the barriers they’re facing. We still don’t know enough about the 3.3 million UK adults who have never used the internet before, including more detail about their disability, and why they’re not online, be that for reasons of physical disability, sensory or learning difficulty/disability, or cost or other reasons. Understanding more about these groups is vital to designing the right initiatives to support people in the most effective way. We’re working with a broad range of organisations, including Mind, Family Fund, Scope and more to help us fill these gaps, as well as partners from within our own network, including our Specialist Disability Network which you can read more about here.

As always, we’ll use these statistics to shape our activity in the future, and to ensure we’re designing programmes, pilots and projects that can have the biggest impact possible on closing the digital divide and on supporting the groups that most need it. And we’ll continue to work with our centres, learners, and partners to fill the gaps so we’re always learning more about the those who are digitally excluded.