Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland third last in UK-wide survey into digital skills

By Rebecca Black

Around half of Northern Ireland forms part of the most digitally excluded areas of the UK, according to new research.

A report by Ipsos Mori into digital skills found people here have among the fewest in the country.

It said that 77% of the UK population was able to complete basic tasks, such as using Google to search for information or buying items online.

The figure in Northern Ireland was much lower at 65%, just marginally ahead of Wales (62%) and the English Midlands (63%).

This means that some 35% of adults here possess virtually no digital skills.

At the other end of the scale, Greater London had the most digitally proficient population, with 84% able to complete the five most basic tasks.

In the report, a lower aptitude was associated with areas with poor broadband access, such as Wales, the worst-performing region in the UK.

The Ipsos Mori research was unveiled by the Go ON UK digital exclusion charity, which developed a heatmap in conjunction with the BBC, the Local Government Association and the London School of Economics and Political Science to show how people were using the internet.

The map highlighted that the areas of the highest digital exclusion in Northern Ireland were largely rural, including Fermanagh, north Antrim, east Antrim, south Armagh, south Londonderry and the Ards Peninsula.

The research further revealed that skill levels started to decline among people aged 45 and older, and that people aged 65 and older were the least likely to be familiar with the internet and also the least likely to own a digital device such as tablet computer or a smartphone.

The report also linked skills with income, with 87% of people defined as middle class having basic digital skills higher than the national average. That figure decreased to 65% among those defined as working class.

Rachel Neaman, chief executive of Go ON UK, claimed that the country was in the throes of a serious "digital skills crisis".

She said: "12.6 million adults, 1.2 million small businesses and over half of all charities lack the basic digital skills needed to succeed in today's digital age.

"Digital competency is an essential skill for everyone. We believe that, without urgent action, the nation's lack of basic digital skills will continue to hold back economic growth, productivity and social mobility."

Ellen Helsper, an associate professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, described the research as a "wake-up call".

"It shows clearly how social and digital exclusion are closely related," she added.

"The lack of basic digital skills and access in already disadvantaged areas is likely to lead to an increase in inequality of opportunity around the UK."


The percentage of people here able to do basic online tasks

Belfast Telegraph