Digital exclusion is not new - but the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic heightened the issue for so many. This is because public places, such as schools and libraries, were closed due to government and public health restrictions. This meant that a lot of people within the community were unconnected, not only socially isolated, but digitally.
As a result, Kent County Council has allocated one-off and time-limited grants to tackle digital exclusion.
Tens of thousands of people across Kent are digitally excluded - whether that be completely unable to access digital services or partially excluded. That is why we are determined to utilise the one-off and time-limited funding for projects and schemes that have the most impact and that bring sustainable outcomes for our residents and businesses.
Digital inclusion and capability covers:
- Access to digital devices (mobiles, laptops, computers or tablets).
- Access to the internet through broadband, Wi-Fi and mobile data.
- Accessibility: Digital services need to be designed to meet all users' needs, including those dependent on assistive technology.
- Skills: People need to have the skills to effectively use digital services and this is not limited to just digital skills, but also wider skills, such as language.
These elements help to support and raise:
- Awareness: Raising awareness of being able to access and use online services.
- Confidence: Building confidence and trust in using digital services.
- Motivation: Empower people to be motivated to use digital services, as well as, the convenience of doing things online can bring.
The barriers to digital inclusion is not as simple as providing someone with a digital device or 4G connectivity - it is more complex and many other social barriers underpin an individual's ability to be digitally included.
Research shows that there are a number of barriers, and more than one may affect individuals at any one time. They are:
- Access - not everyone has the ability to connect to the internet and go online.
- Skills - not everyone has the ability to use the internet and online services.
- Confidence - some people fear online crime, lack trust or don't know where to start online.
- Motivation - not everyone sees why using the internet could be relevant and helpful.
As access, skills and confidence improve, it is increasingly important to tackle other barriers, including:
- Design - not all digital services and products are accessible and easy to use or understand.
- Awareness - not everyone is aware of digital services and products available to them.
- Capability and Capacity - not all staff have the skills and knowledge to recommend digital services and products to service users.
In addition, the underlying reasons why an individual faces the barriers will differ person to person. For example:
- An individual may not have access to the internet, because they have a poor credit rating which means that they cannot access a good broadband or mobile contract deal (if at all). With some people rationing their internet usage, resulting in only partially being digitally included.
- An individual may have some of the basic skills to use the internet, but may have trouble using digital services because of a language barrier. This is particularly an issue where English is a second language.
- An individual may have no issues using the internet to complete transactions, like online shopping. However, they have a lack of trust in authority and therefore would not use digital services provided by organisations like the government, councils or health professionals.
- An individual could be digitally excluded because of a personal circumstance they're in, such as being homeless. With no fixed address, it is hard to get and accept support.
Our approach in Kent is underpinned by four key principles:
- Tailored: We know that everyone is different and so is their circumstances. Therefore 'one-size' doesn't fit all and that is why we have broken our projects and schemes up. For example not supplying every laptop with pre-installed software. Therefore, we aim to provide an entirely tailored approach to tackling digital exclusion.
- Holistic: There are varying barriers and different reasons why a person is digitally excluded. Therefore we will holistically support. That is why when it comes to supporting someone that is digitally excluded, we will not ignore or discount other social barriers, such as financial capability, and we will refer into other Financial Hardship schemes being developed or delivered.
- Cohesive: There are different schemes to support people and therefore we will work cohesively in delivering our schemes and projects. That is why our own projects and schemes work well together and we will ensure that we do not compete with other third-party schemes and projects, as we want to ensure that the time-limited funding we have available is maximised.
- Sustainable: We will deliver projects and schemes that are sustainable; not only in terms of lifecycle of the project, but also environmentally. That is why we have decided to supply remanufactured laptops that are carbon-neutral.