Hackney’s digital divide is worst in capital as council plans online-only services

Shaun Ashby Milton Gardens Estate

Digitally divided: one in four Hackney residents ‘have never used internet’. Photograph: Hackney Citizen

A staggering one in four of Hackney residents has never used the internet in their lives – the highest level of any London borough, according to a new report by Hackney Council.

This figure (26%) represents around 47,000 people. The report also found that ‘digital exclusion’ was most likely to affect residents who are older, disabled, on low incomes, on benefits or in social housing.

The Digital Divide Research Report was commissioned by the Community Safety and Social Inclusion (CSSI) Scrutiny Commission last year, with the aim of “map[ping] the extent of digital exclusion among Hackney residents in order to inform better policy making.”

The impetus for this research appears to be the government’s plan to replace a large chunk of the current benefits system in 2013 with a Universal Credit, which will only be available online. This will necessitate what the council calls ‘channel migration’ from telephone services to the internet and mobile devices.

The report found that motivation is the “main barrier to digital inclusion,” with 50% (23,500) of those who do not have internet access “saying they did not need it.” It also notes that age is the strongest indicator of a resident’s “channel preference,” and that older people countrywide would rather visit or phone their local council than go online.

“Channel preference is strongly linked to age,” the report says. “The implication of this for Council policy is that it will not be possible in the medium term to close down face to face or telephone channels. That is not to say that the cost of these cannot be significantly reduced through channel shift.”

It recommends that the council “target and tailor” their work to “promote digital inclusion” for the groups currently excluded, who will need “targeted support” to avoid “significant problems” when “the move to online-only transactions, particularly those as crucial as the Universal Credit” take place.

Some of the measures the council wants to take to address digital exclusion are not possible due to a lack of resources, the CSSI Scrutiny Commission heard in a recent meeting (Tuesday 10 July), while others have been postponed due to the Olympics.

You can read the full report here (pp17-76).