In conjunction with our upcoming Digital Inclusion project, this blog looks at the ‘Digital Divide’ in the UK and its impact on wellbeing during the Covid-19 crisis and the third lockdown.
When the country first entered into lockdown last Spring it quickly became clear that these changes would have a major impact.
While essential for protecting public health during the crisis, it was clear that this ‘new normal’ would have significant consequences for all of us.
The impact on our wellbeing was always going to be substantial.
Now, that we have entered a third national lockdown these questions are as pressing as ever.
For many, this has meant stress and anxiety as people try to protect their health, bear the economic consequences of the pandemic, and deal with large levels of uncertainty.
For many people who live alone or apart from family, and even for those who don’t, this can be immensely challenging. Social isolation has become an even more significant problem than ever before.
In April, under the first lockdown, around 24% of adults said they were experiencing loneliness. The new lockdown means that similar conditions are present now. In the long-term this can lead to serious mental health problems including depression, anxiety and high levels of stress.
Communication through applications such as FaceTime, WhatsApp and Zoom and participation in online events and activities can be a way of addressing feelings of isolation in the lockdown.
It is important to recognise that this is an imperfect substitute for in-person social contact. However, during the lockdown period, this remains a helpful substitute for the many people who can’t see friends or family.
Our Digital Inclusion project recognises that not everybody has access to this kind of substitute.
Around one in ten people in the country do not regularly use the internet, out of a combination of personal choice, lack of experience with digital technology or lack of access. Ofcom have highlighted that one in twenty people live somewhere where they don’t have access to fast broadband, often meaning it is hard to communicate via video calls or similar technology. According to the Office for National Statistics, 4% of households do not have access to the internet. This figure rises to 20% among households where at least one adult is over 65.
According to the University of Cambridge, only 51% of those households on very low incomes - with incomes between £6,000 and £10,000 a year - have access to the internet. This has often been described as a ‘digital divide’.
With schools closed to most children and university students largely learning from their family's homes, many pupils, students and parents will be feeling the impact of this 'digital divide'.
According to the Children's Commissioner, at least 1.14 million children do not have access to a computer, laptop or table. Over half a million laptops and tablets were handed out to schools last year to help remedy this problem, with an additional 100,000 handed out in the last week. However, it remains that many children do not have access to the internet - while others do not have access to a fast enough connection to easily participate in online learning.
In Chinese communities in London, we have seen the significant impact lack of access to digital communication can have in the lockdown. People have been left with little social contact and this can have a profound impact on their wellbeing, leading to loneliness and worry. While we certainly recognise that the new lockdown is necessary, we are aware of the need to deal with its negative side effects.
Our Contribution to the Community
Since last spring, we have emphasised the need to give people virtual access to services and support during the lockdown. And we have put that belief into practice, transforming our services and establishing a new online platform.
However, we have seen the impact lack of access to the internet, limited technological know-how and poor quality connection can have - including on many people most at risk.
This is why we are currently developing a project on Digital Inclusion to play our part in tackling these issues head on.
Photo credit: Flickr/Nicolas Winspeare.