COVID-19 has thrown a spotlight on the data and digital divides in the UK. A large proportion of the public lack adequate access to fundamental data infrastructure, such as ownership of a computer, broadband, connectivity and smartphones, so are unable to benefit fairly from the use of data-driven technologies in health. The consequences of this are exclusion from datasets, resulting in ‘missing data’ and the creation of a class that is ‘below the data line’. Closing the data divide must start with closing the digital divide.
The data divide
This is a section from a report of the findings of a nationally representative survey of 2,023 UK British adults to explore public attitudes towards a range of technologies deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic for health outcomes.
Nearly a fifth (19%) of respondents said they did not have access to a smartphone, and another 14% said they do not have access to the internet. 8% said they had neither a smartphone or access to the internet.1 The most clinically vulnerable, those who identified as having a disability and those on the lowest incomes (less than £20,000) were among those who most likely not to have access to either broadband or a smartphone, in addition to those above the age of 65:
There has been a widespread perception that digital exclusion impacts disproportionately on the elderly, but recent research has shown that it is not just a generational issue.2 Even before the pandemic, just over one quarter (27%) of the public did not have the digital skills necessary for day-to-day life in Britain, and over half of that number were under the age of 60.3 And an Ofcom survey between January and March 2020 identified that nearly 13% of UK adults do not use the internet, and that nearly 10% of households with children did not have home access to a laptop, desktop PC or tablet.4
A data divide based on knowledge, awareness and skills
The next section finds that a large proportion of the public lacks awareness of the existence of, and the potential to use and adopt, some of the technologies we asked about.
Image credit: cnythzl
This is a section from The data divide – findings of a nationally representative survey of 2,023 UK British adults, to explore public attitudes towards a range of technologies deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic for health outcomes. Read the full report here, and explore the full dataset in Github.
- This figure is likely to be slightly higher than reported, as all survey respondents would have required access to a landline or a mobile telephone.
- Holmes, H. and Burgess, G. (2020). ‘Opinion: Coronavirus has intensified the UK’s digital divide.’ University of Cambridge. [online] Available at: https://www.cam.ac.uk/stories/digitaldivide
- Lloyds Bank (2020). Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index. [online] Available at: https://www.lloydsbank.com/assets/media/pdfs/ banking_with_us/whats-happening/lb-consumer-digital-index-2020-report.pdf.
- Ofcom. (2020) Adults Media Use and Attitudes. [online] Available at: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0031/196375/ adults-media-use-and-attitudes-2020-report.pdf [Accessed 19 Mar. 2021].
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