This is a guest post from UK consumer site Choose. — IIA

From 2009 to 2012, the UK spent about £24 million (about $36 million USD) on a big, co-ordinated effort to get people online for the first time.

The project – culminating in 2011 with an initiative called Race Online 2012 – appointed a prominent former businesswoman as a ‘digital champion’, partnered with large UK businesses and encouraged existing charities to undertake digital inclusion work.

Less Digitally Divided

Between 2009 and 2013 the number of UK adults who had never been online fell from 21% to 14%.

A million people had gone online for the very first time by May 2013.

The EU’s Digital Agenda aims for 15% inclusion by 2015, so the UK is already well ahead of most European peers.

Changing Demographics

Right now in the UK, 99% of 16 to 24 year olds have been online, compared to just 34% of adults over the age of 75.

But if Race Online in particular had any impact it was on the older segment of the population. In that big push in 2011 over 180,000 people aged over 75 age went online. Digital inclusion also increased in the 65-74 age range (to 60%) and the 55-64 age range (to 80%).

Race Online projects targeted older people through partnerships with charities such as Age UK, which organised community computer skills workshops. How far such projects are responsible for the increase in digital inclusion is in dispute, however, since it can obviously be put down partially to natural demographic change. The oldest people are far more likely to be excluded but they’re also, increasingly not counted in the statistics. Meanwhile, those moving into the age bracket are far more likely to have gone online at some point already.

Digital by Default

These campaigns have been highly publicised and supported in the highest levels of the UK Government partly because of an overall ‘digital by default’ agenda.

Putting welfare information and other public services online would, by some estimates, save the Government millions of pounds a year. Yet the most vulnerable people – the elderly, those living in poverty and those with disabilities – are also the most likely to be digitally excluded.

“There is far to go before digital becomes everyone’s chosen means of accessing public services,” the National Audit Office warned last year. “There are still significant numbers of people who cannot, or do not wish to, go online.”

For further information and research into the reasons for the digital inclusion of older people, please visit the Choose website.