How deep is the UK’s digital divide?

Katie Heard, Head of Research and Insights, explores the depths of the digital divide following the release of Good Things' latest state of the Digital Nation.

What is the state of our digital nation?

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, having the necessary access, skills, and confidence to interact digitally is key for full participation in society. However, many individuals, digitally excluded or otherwise, risk being left behind. Understanding who is left behind and why is vital for informed decision-making and resource allocation.

Good Things Foundation’s Digital Nation 2024 brings together the essential facts and stats on the consequences of digital exclusion, the people left behind and the benefits of becoming digitally included. I’m going to highlight 5 of the critical numbers we discovered while developing our Digital Nation infographic.

1. 8.5 million people lack basic digital skills

There was an encouraging improvement in the number of individuals lacking basic digital skills over the past year. It dropped from 10 million to 8.5 million. While the divide may have gotten narrower, it got deeper as more services moved online. Without adequate skills, individuals are at risk of being left behind, limiting their opportunities for education, employment, and social participation.

2. 3.7 million families are below the Minimum Digital Living Standard

Unfortunately, 3.7 million families fall below the Minimum Digital Living Standard, facing barriers such as limited internet connectivity, outdated devices, and insufficient digital literacy support. Addressing these disparities is essential families and their children to access equal opportunities.

3. Food costs 50% higher without internet access

Studies have shown that households without internet access incur higher costs overall but most worryingly, food costs that are 50% higher than those who have connectivity. This stark disparity not only increases financial pressures but also highlights the link between digital exclusion and wider inequalities. 

4. 21% feel left behind by technology

Beyond the barriers of access and affordability, people’s confidence and motivation to get online also play a significant role in digital exclusion. 21% of people say they feel left behind by technology, experiencing feelings of isolation and inadequacy. This sense of exclusion can have a profound negative effect on mental well-being, social integration and the desire to take part in activities that can improve digital skills. 

5. Investing in digital skills could achieve a £13.7 billion economic benefit

Investing in digital inclusion isn’t just a matter of social responsibility—it’s also a sound economic strategy. Research suggests that for every £1 invested in digital skills, there’s a return of £9.48.  The total economic impact could total £13.7 billion in economic benefit, unlocking new opportunities for innovation, productivity and growth in the digital era.

What are we doing to take our digital nation from paradox to place of inclusion?

Thanks to our collaborative work with politicians, business and communities, progress has been made. However, there’s still much work to be done to ensure we have a healthy and equal digital nation. We’re working hard to fix the digital divide:

Raising facts to Parliamentarians and businesses

We launched Digital Nation 2024 at the Guildhall in the City of London to some of the UK’s largest private sector businesses. These organisations, such as our strategic partners and others attendees including Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and Marks and Spencer, are all working avidly to help communities access the internet through digital skills learning and device donations, as well as making their services accessible to people who are digitally excluded.

Just a few days later we briefed Members of Parliament and policy advisors at Portcullis House in Westminster, who were alarmed by the state of our digital nation. The room was filled with inspiration and motivation to not only elevate digital inclusion policy in the government’s priorities, but also improve local digital support and services in their constituencies and communities.

Providing free digital inclusion services to local organisations

Good Things’ powers the National Digital Inclusion Network, which is made up of 5,000 organisations that support their local community. These organisations deliver one or a mix of our digital inclusion services:

Getting refurbished devices to those who need them

1.5 million people don’t have a smartphone, tablet or laptop – and demand for these devices is growing at a far greater rate than we can supply. That’s why we’re partnering with more and more of the UK’s largest organisations to reuse their tech for social good. Organisations such as Ocado, Which?, National Grid and Microsoft have chosen to donate used devices to the National Device Bank. And it’s not just the private sector coming on board; councils and local authorities are donating used devices too. We’re constantly building relationships with more organisations to donate rather than dispose of their tech.

Through collaboration, we can continue to make progress and fix the digital divide – for good. Take a look at all the ways you can get involved.

An image of Katie Heard

Katie Heard

Head of Research and Data Insights

Katie leads our team of researchers and data specialists, helping us understand the difference we are making, how many people we are helping and what works to improve the lives of those who are digitally excluded. Katie sees equality of access to digital services and devices as a basic need and is passionate about making this possible for as many people as we can.