Throughout the pandemic, our reliance on technology has increased as it has enabled society to maintain a level of normality. This has also exposed the severity of the digital divide in the UK – and potentially made digital inequality and exclusion worse for the millions it affects.

IT has been a lifesaver throughout Covid-19. As thousands of schools, universities and workplaces sent people home, and much of the hospitality and retail sector was forced to close, the digital world remained open, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Digital connectivity has enabled many of us to communicate, work together, study, shop, and socialise from a distance, to limit transmission of the virus, protect the vulnerable and support our NHS.

Since the first UK lockdown arrived in March, millions of us have upped our usage of smartphones, tablets, and social media, to stay informed and in touch with family and friends. Households have bought pub quizzes to their living rooms, whilst businesses have utilised laptops, video conferencing and cloud-based platforms to facilitate remote working and continuity. Education establishments have taken learning online, face-to-face events have become virtual experiences, and some of us have suffered from ‘Zoom fatigue’.

Several months later, after various tiered and localised restrictions, and amidst another country-wide lockdown, our reliance on technology, the internet and digital channels of communication has only risen. Moreover, as many expect hybrid working and learning approaches will be the norm even in a post-pandemic world, the size of tech’s role in both our personal and professional lives will only continue to grow.

This heightened tech-dependence however, has also exposed the severity of the digital divide in the UK – and potentially made it worse.

Defining the divide

In an increasingly digital world that champions innovation and global connectivity, digital inequality, digital exclusion, and the digital divide are not new concepts. However, the sheer magnitude of these issues is something that many are not aware of.

The University of Cambridge defines the digital divide as the gap between those who have access to the latest technology, and those who do not. Those with limited, or even zero access are categorised as being affected by digital inequality.

Digital inequality is felt by those affected in three different ways – broadband connections, access to devices or device ownership, and digital literacy or skills. The internet offers little value if you haven’t a device to connect to it, and laptop is almost pointless if you don’t have the ability to use it. This what drives digital exclusion – those without adequate access to even one of these components then miss out on everything the digital world has to offer.

Digital exclusion is especially detrimental to those it affects, as so much of our lives takes place online. It’s where we access information, knowledge, services, and support, as well as a myriad of opportunities for personal and professional development, employment, and education. Essentially, digital exclusion shuts people out of the very core of our society, denies them from full economic participation.

As the pandemic has pushed our reliance on tech to a whole new level, the negative impact of digital exclusion has been magnified for the millions it affects – the majority of which are low income families, and the elderly.

Closing the gap

Technology and digital connectivity now pervade every aspect of our lives. But the pandemic has seen digital inequality cause children fall behind as they struggle to participate in online learning without modern technology, and some of our most vulnerable have suffered poor mental health and increasing feelings of isolation due to limited digital skill or access.

That’s why it’s vital that organisations of all sizes and sectors, come together to do more to ensure equal access for all to the digital world, bridge the digital divide and prevent people from being left behind. Whether it’s through making technology more affordable, supporting access initiatives, or simply sharing skills.

Support from Stone

As a trusted IT partner to public sector and education for over 30 years, and experienced provider to UK businesses, we are here to continue to assist our customers with flexible, affordable, and accessible solutions that make a positive difference to their end-users and the people they support.

We have an extensive range of affordable new and refurbished technology, 1:1 device schemes and parent partnership programmes, payment plans and finance options, as well as value-added services such as training, software license, consultations, and advisory services.

We can also help you access the range of government funding for solutions that can help your organisation bounce back from the pandemic and realise the value in your old tech with our sustainable IT recycling service.