The digital divide is used to describe a growing gap between those with the means and ability to access digital devices and services versus those who cannot or can but only to a limited degree. This can result in digital exclusion where a service is only offered digitally and those without good internet, devices and/or who lack basic digital skills cannot access those services.
Who does it impact?
Many think that the digital divide only impacts older demographics and whilst this demographic is often hit the hardest it is not an issue that only impacts the elderly. A school child can be impacted if asked to do research online but they can’t access a device or the home has a poor or slow internet connection. Many rural communities lack high speed broadband and this can impact the accessibility of online services. Those with learning difficulties may struggle with digital skills or may need specific (and often expensive) software/hardware to enable them to use digital services. In general terms those in rural areas, poorer households, those with disabilities and older demographics are those most likely to be impacted by the digital divide. They either lack good quality internet or devices to access online services or lack the understanding and knowledge of how to do so.
Why is it a problem?
More and more services are moving online, such as paying for parking, healthcare, school work, banking and many others. Whilst modernization is welcome, an issue occurs when other routes of completing these activities are withdrawn – e.g. parking meters no longer having a cash option or bank branches shutting down. Those people suffering from the digital divide suddenly lose their access - with no workaround. It is estimated that 18% of Londoners lack basic digital skills, and that 10% do not own a smartphone. The main reason for digital exclusion is older age and Bromley has an older than average population (compared to other London Boroughs) and as we continue to suffer from a cost-of-living crisis another driver of digital exclusion, poverty, will be on the increase as people focus on food, warmth and shelter and may struggle to continue to pay for internet access and devices.
Bromley Liberal Democrats Call for Digital Exclusion Champion
To combat this growing issue in Bromley, the local Liberal Democrats have called on Bromley Council to commit to supporting people who do not have digital access to services. Cllr Chloe-Jane Ross said that “while it is important to encourage as many residents as possible to use digital services there always be offline options for those that cannot.”
In a formal motion to Bromley Council the Liberal Democrat council group called on the Council to:
As Cllr Ross explains “this is about identifying where digital exclusion might be occurring and finding ways to help. It is about always considering digital inclusion and exclusion when we make decisions, and making reasonable and proportionate allowances. It is about encouraging more residents to use council services, but always having an offline option for those that cannot.”
In response to the Liberal Democrat’s motion the Conservative administration have agreed to refer the issue to a committee to examine how to carry out the group’s aspirations and to report back to Council when work is complete. We will continue to put pressure on the administration to take action and will report back on the committee’s findings on this issue.
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