Emergence of a Digital UnderclassNew research from Dr Ellen Helsper shows that a digital underclass is forming in Britain. Characterised by unemployment and lower education levels, this group is much less likely to access the internet and is less digitally skilled, despite gains made in the last several years. This evidence follows a recent analysis by the University College Union that showed that one in nine adults in the UK lack any qualifications contributing to divisions between “haves and “have-nots”.

Helsper warns that as the government plans to make public services ‘digital by default’ these individuals will be unable to access them, not because of a lack of infrastructure but because of a lack of (effective) take up of the available connections.

These individuals rely most on the government services that are now becoming ‘digital by default’ and will continue to do so. Those who need access to services most, from where the biggest cost savings through the digitisation of services are supposed to come, are the least likely to take these up even when access is available

A dossier, also released today, on digital inclusion traces the policies and programmes designed to increase digital access and use in various disadvantaged groups. However, the findings of Helsper’s research show gaps based on education and employment persist independent of age or other characteristics. They therefore represent a problem that is unlikely to go away even with better infrastructure or as younger generations grow up.