Tackling the digital divide
With many essential services now moving largely online, it’s difficult to imagine there still being 2.6 million people who are digitally excluded. We’re working towards tackling the digital divide to ensure the benefits and opportunities of digital technology are accessible to all.
No one can deny that we're living in a digital-first time. Supercharged by the COVID-19 pandemic, our workplaces, our homes and our essential services are becoming increasingly digitised. From booking appointments to food shopping, keeping on top of our money or finding great deals – it’s undeniable that a lack of digital access, confidence or capability could prevent any one of us from completing essential tasks.
Even though the digitisation of our economy and society continues at pace, for the digitally disadvantaged and disengaged, everyday life is becoming more and more difficult. 10 million of the UK adult population still can’t access the internet by themselves and 11 million people lack the essential digital skills now needed for everyday life.
How can this be the case when digital is key for so many?
There are three barriers to digital adoption:
1. access to, and affordability of, the internet (connectivity, devices and data);
2. digital skills (confidence and capability);
3. opportunity (digital provision and accessibility).
And that’s why at Lloyds Banking Group we have a dedicated Digital Impact and Inclusion team which leads our digital and financial capability and inclusion activity – working to ensure digital is accessible to all. Over the past five years we have worked with regional and UK-wide partners to tackle each of these challenges, while also working with organisations like FutureDotNow, Foundervine and Tech Talent Charter to drive inclusive digital workplaces.
The digital divide:
UK adults are unable to access the internet by themselves
UK adults lack the essential digital skills needed for everyday life
UK adults are considered completely digitally excluded
Access to and affordability of the internet – connectivity, devices and data
There is much debate as to whether we should start thinking of digital as the fourth utility. With the cost-of-living crisis resulting in even greater levels of digital and data poverty, there is more work to be done to ensure everyone has access to a device, connectivity and data. There are brilliant schemes such as the Good Things Foundation Data Poverty Lab, the Digital Poverty Alliance and several telecoms organisations are doing device distribution or social tariffs for broadband.
We know the digital divide is intrinsically linked with broader inequalities; not only does digital exclusion shine a light on existing inequalities (such as socio-economic or educational), it brings new ones to the surface. Digital exclusion levels are continuing to raise concern, intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic and the current cost-of-living crisis. Broadband is just one utility bill that may be deprioritised as costs rise – just last year, 33% of those not online said cheaper broadband would encourage them to use the internet.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic we recognised our face-to-face support was not possible and teamed up with We Are Digital to set up the Digital Helpline. It’s a unique offering that gives customers access to remote digital skills training on the phone, by video call or dedicated British Sign Language service. If a customer is completely digitally excluded, we will even provide a digital device and data.
The service helps people with anything from checking their bank balance or setting up a direct debit to food shopping, making a GP appointment or video calling family and friends – all those everyday necessities. We have also undertaken pilots with housing associations, charities and community organisations to ensure the service is made available to those who need it.
By delivering free over-the-phone training, our intention is simple – to help customers with little or no digital skills learn easy and safe ways to do what they need to online. Since its launch, the Helpline has supported over 15,000 people and gifted 1,700 devices. We are delighted that 74% of those who have had support from our Helpline are now using the internet daily, and 97% say their digital skills have improved since using the service.
Digital skills – confidence and capability
Our 2021 Essential Digital Skills report found that 11 million (21%) UK adults lack the digital skills needed for everyday life, meaning they’re unable to do things such as make a payment online, write an email or find a job.
The Lloyds Bank Academy and the Bank of Scotland Academy support people with the financial and digital skills they need to succeed. We provide a variety of free support – face-to-face, on the phone, through interactive webinars and on-demand learning – and we work with local charities, community centres and authorities to embed support where it’s needed. One of our key principles is to ensure we’re meeting people at their point of need and connecting to motives they have more broadly. We embed digital skills and technology within the learning, rather than always leading with it – for example, tapping into ways to save money, time and stay connected to loved ones.
Building digital and financial capability isn’t just helpful for individuals, but also for our small business customers. We know that digital skills can save small businesses time, increase revenue and help to build out a loyal customer base. This is why the Academies also offer tech adoption, financial resilience and productivity hints and tips – in 2021 alone, we helped 195,000 small businesses. Partnering with Foundervine, Small Business Britain and Oxford Brookes University has also enabled us to reach diverse and regionally dispersed sole traders and entrepreneurs, offering them the opportunity to be part of business communities too.
Lloyds Banking Group colleagues have a lot to offer when it comes to sharing their skills. Our Digital Champions programme at its height had more than 20,000 colleagues volunteering to help individuals, businesses or charities improve their digital skills. We offered a range of volunteering opportunities and provided resources and toolkits to ensure colleagues had everything they needed to teach others in their community. Now, post-pandemic, we’re reflecting on how best we can provide more targeted and tailored support, and our current partnership is with Digital Boost.
Through this initiative colleagues are matched with small businesses and charities. We’ve seen all kinds of great pairings, from our technology colleagues advising a health start-up on new platforms and processes, to customer service specialists helping a grocer shape a customer engagement strategy, through to a telephony colleague offering their insights to a marketing business on how to identify phishing and fraud. Our colleagues’ time and expertise are invaluable in helping small businesses and charities to grow, and it also helps colleagues grow in confidence and capability too.