London’s digital divide

In our new series, Eastlondonlines looks at digital exclusion in Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Croydon and Lewisham during the Covid pandemic

The Digital Divide in the ELL boroughs. Pic: by Fiona Holland

Many of us now take the internet for granted. Shopping, healthcare, socialising, culture and even exercise have all made the shift online. We think nothing of applying for jobs, finding dates, paying our taxes or booking a GP appointment on the web, and 82 per cent of jobs now require digital skills. The internet’s intertwining with our daily lives has never been more apparent than over the past year, when for many it became our only link to the outside world. Four out of five people in the UK agreed technology has been a “vital support” during the pandemic.

However, millions of people still lack the skills or technology needed to participate in our increasingly virtual society. According to a 2020 report by Lloyds bank, nine million people cannot use the internet without help. 3.8 million, or seven per cent of the population, are “almost completely” offline. Overall, it estimates 22 per cent of the UK population is digitally excluded in some way.

9 million people in the UK cannot use the internet without help.

Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index, 2020

Why does this matter? The digital divide both mirrors and reinforces pre-existing social inequalities. People in the lowest socio-economic groups are three times more likely to not use the internet, and other commonly digitally excluded groups include the homeless, benefits recipients, and elderly and disabled people. This can increase isolation and have a financial impact, too, as people are more likely to pay extra for goods and utilities while earning less.

Looking locally, Croydon, Lewisham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney have some of the highest rates of inequality in the country. Although just 0.4% of households in the boroughs do not have good broadband access, and levels of digital skills are generally high, thousands of residents have still found themselves left behind during Covid, from the shielding elderly locked inside to schoolchildren unable to learn online.

A year on from the first lockdown, our series will explore the stories of some of those most affected by London’s digital divide.

Explore the digital divide series

Quiz: Check your digital privilege

Day 1: How do your digital skills and access to technology measure up to the rest of the UK? Take the quiz to find out.

Tower Hamlets’ left-behind children

Day 1: Despite government promises, a year into the pandemic many children still don’t have the laptops they need to learn online.

Life on the wrong side of the digital divide: Joanne’s story

Day 2: With limited internet access, applying for jobs is almost impossible, and even shopping for food is tricky. Here, a local woman describes how everyday life became a struggle.

Digital life after death: how to help the bereaved in a pandemic

Day 2: With the death rate far higher than usual, and traditional funerals outlawed, the digital divide means some people can’t even say goodbye.

‘A piece of cake’: the silver surfers who got online

Day 3: Elderly people are the least likely group to get online. 42% never use the internet at all. Will the pandemic close this divide?

How can we bridge London’s digital divide?

Day 4: We speak to CEO of charity Good Things Foundation Helen Milner on the tools needed to fight digital exclusion.

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