UK digital divide is "narrowing" as a result of the pandemic

More people accessed the internet during the past year, but 1.5 million households are still not connected

An unhappy boy with a smartphone

The percentage of homes in the UK without internet access almost halved during the pandemic, falling from 11% in March 2020 to just 6% in March 2021, according to research from Ofcom. 

The regulator's findings suggest more people with "previously limited digital skills" have embraced online shopping, digital banking and video calling during lockdown. Many have also been aided by younger family members acting as 'IT support'. 

However, despite more people jumping online during the pandemic, the remaining 6% of the country have felt digital exclusion more acutely. There are still around 1.5 million homes without an internet connection, according to Ofcom, which has caused people to struggle to shop, work and learn during the pandemic.  

The demographics that are most likely to be included in the 6% are those aged 65 and above and families on low or no income. Almost half of adults who remain offline said they find the internet too complicated, or it holds no interest for them. However, more than a third of people said a lack of access to equipment is a barrier.

While the research found that all school-aged children had online access at home, 4% relied solely on mobile internet access during the pandemic. Additionally, one in five did not have consistent access to a suitable device to do their remote learning, a figure that increases to a quarter for children from households classed as 'most financially vulnerable'. 

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"For many people, lockdown will leave a lasting legacy of improved online access and better digital understanding," said Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom's strategy and research group director. "But for a significant minority of adults and children, it's only served to intensify the digital divide.

"We'll continue to work with the government and other partner organisations to promote digital literacy and ensure that people of all ages and backgrounds are empowered to share in the benefits of the internet."

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