This world is very different from what it was 50 years ago. Today, digital access is seen as a necessity for being considered an active member of society. The ongoing worldwide pandemic has shown us just how important digital connectivity is, as we all learned to grapple with extended periods of isolation and living our lives differently to before. In fact, now more than ever, we’re beginning to better understand what digital inequalities in society look like.  These inequalities leave thousands of people across the length and breadth of Scotland feeling isolated and excluded. 

It’s not surprising to note that digital exclusion is growing. It’s a complex picture, with the list below summarising some of the reasons why Scotland is seeing a disproportionate level of exclusion.

  • Age. In 2017, National Records Scotland showed that our population is aging faster than anywhere in the UK. 
  • Disability. A widening chasm of digital exclusion for those living with a disability.
  • Income. On average household income in Scotland has stagnated over the last few years, so the money is just not there for some people.
  • Geography. With some areas more isolated and disconnected than others.
  • Limited access to free training to improve digital skills and knowledge.

A recent report published by Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) highlighted the depth of digital exclusion for people with disabilities is generally much greater than for the wider population, and that people who are digitally excluded are likely to be disproportionately high users of government services, including but not limited to social care.

In 2017, 800,000 people in Scotland faced digital inequality (Office National Statistics). The Scottish Government estimates:

  • Over a third of households in lower-income brackets do not have any internet access.
  • 19% of Scottish people do not have the necessary digital skills.
  • 400,000 people approx. do not live in areas that have 4G coverage.

These numbers are and should be alarming. Those who are digitally excluded will have less access to education, employment, social interaction, and other services that every person should be entitled to. The consequences of this could have negative and far-reaching consequences for years to come.

Andrew Thomson, senior operations manager at Carr Gomm, said: “In Scotland, about 230,000 people access social care support; that’s one person in every twenty-four.  We know that in the 21st Century, being digitally excluded is an increasingly acute form of social exclusion, with significant detrimental impacts. The people we support have higher levels of non-digital engagement, and we’re committed to addressing the reasons for digital exclusion while working creatively to provide innovative solutions to reduce isolation and improve lives.”

Does the Scottish Government have a plan?

In March 2020, at the start of lockdown, ScotlandIS (a trade association championing Scotland’s vital technologies industry) and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), made a joint call for action. No one, they said, should face digital exclusion in Scotland.

As a result, the Scottish Government formed a team to collaborate with public, private, and third sector organisations to establish Connecting Scotland. The initiative, worth £5 million, aims to distribute laptops or tablets, training, support, and internet connections to those who are not already online.  

  • The programme aims to reach 9000 people who are considered ‘clinically at digital exclusion risk’.
  • The recipients will be paired with a digital champion who will support them for six months as they become established online.
  • The technology will be owned by SCVO and distributed through local authorities and referrals by community organisations.
  • The digital champions will be sourced and trained by SCVO.

This is a fantastic initiative, working alongside the Digital Participation Charter Fund; set-up by the government in 2014 to support digital projects in communities across Scotland. To date, over 15,000 people and 120 projects have benefited from the Charter.

One of these projects was the ‘Let’s Get Online’ campaign, a programme that helps people develop basic internet skills and confidence. With over 100 days of activity in 60 cities, towns, and villages across Scotland, it’s so far supported over 14,000 people most at risk of digital exclusion.

How is Carr Gomm responding to the challenge of digital exclusion for people supported?

We have a strategic aim to promote digital inclusion throughout the organisation for staff and in particular, for people supported. We know that many people have low levels of digital engagement; well above the national average, and are already at risk of social exclusion. Not addressing the reasons for people's digital exclusion simply wouldn’t do, and could in many cases exacerbate what is a national issue.

To help get to the bottom of some of these complex reasons, we’ve recently created a new role within the organisation; Digital inclusion Officer. This role will be integral to our efforts to better champion digital inclusion, and we hope will lead to a better way of identifying and fixing some of the digital challenges people supported face every day.

Eilidh MacDonald, senior operations manager at Carr Gomm, said: “We are very aware of the average statistics that represent those supported by Carr Gomm. Digital inclusion was already something of a focus for us in 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic has brutally exposed the alarming need for more urgent solutions. This has helped sharpen our thinking; leading us to recruit a new role that will work to understand the gaps stopping people from getting online.”

Where to go for help?

If you’re struggling to get online, contact Let’s Get Online: 0300 004 1000

If you have access to a computer and the internet, and want to find out more about digital exclusion in Scotland, and the Connecting Scotland initiative, visit:

  • inspiringscotland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Digital-Exclusion-in-Scotland-final-full-report-1.pdf
  • https://connecting.scot/