Financial News

  • 15 April 2014, 1:01

Internet Britain: Drive For 2.5m New Surfers

The web is 25 years old - but 11 million adults in the UK still don't use it.

With public services like tax returns and passport applications being delivered online more and more, the Government wants to bring that number down by launching a new 'digital inclusion charter'.

The charter brings together charities (including theGo On campaign) and businesses together to reach those still offline - or digitally excluded.

Supermarket ASDA and mobile network provider EE will be holding face-to-face digital advice sessions.

In two years, they hope to get 2.5 million more people online.

It is good the Government has recognised and attempted to address the problem. But the proposals themselves are vague and jargon-rich.

One of the 'digital inclusion strategy actions' cited by the charter promises to "agree a common definition of digital skills and capabilities".

And the reason people aren't online isn't down to a lack of access or awareness. Some 59% of those digitally excluded say they don't think the internet is useful or interesting.

Nick Hurd, the minister for civil society, said the charter aims to make it "easier for people to build their digital skills and confidence" - a hard task, if people don't want to go online in the first place.

The aim is not to get silver surfers posting selfies on Twitter and Facebook.

The Government Digital Service - a body set up to digitise the delivery of key services - is committed to making 25 public services 'digital-by-default' by this time next year.

This means that when a public service can be delivered through the internet, it should.

Doing so will save 1.5bn by the end of this year, according to the Government, and billions more in years to come.

Those not online could find it harder to submit tax returns or renew their driving licence, although the Government has pledged a 50m budget to provide "digital assistance" for those who'd rather not use a computer for such tasks.

Last year, the National Audit Office warned of a potential "digital divide" between those online and those not.

Does the charter go far enough to help the latter?

Kelly Fiveash, networks correspondent at technology website The Register, said: "The Government will continue to fail to put a dent in that figure because its agenda is patronising and out of touch with the public."

Fiveash also thinks "the disabled and poor are at a distinct disadvantage due to cost and accessibility barriers".

Reducing the number of people digitally excluded by 25% in two years would be a very good achievement.

The 'digital inclusion charter' is a speculative declaration of intent. How its promises are actually delivered is crucial.

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