Digital exclusion: internet access in the UK has peaked

Thirteen percent of adults in the UK do not use the internet. It’s a figure that has remained unchanged since 2014 according to Ofcom. That’s a problem for public engagement.

Access to digital services and literacy rates have plateaued in the UK according to new data published by the broadcast and telecom watchdog Ofcom.

The Ofcom Adults: Media use and attitudes report 2019 examine adults’ media literacy rates in the UK. It highlights a significant minority of digitally excluded adults.

You can download the full report by following this link. It opens as a PDF.

Communication challenge

More than one in 10 adults (13%) in the UK do not use the internet. This number has remained unchanged in the past four years.


The Ofcom data challenges the accepted wisdom that internet adoption rates are steadily climbing. It’s likely that we’ve already reached peak adoption in the UK.

Digital exclusion is a significant challenge for public services and organisations seeking to deliver products and services to the general public.

It’s important for marketing and public relations practitioners to understand who these people are and the barriers to them getting online.

If you work in a digital first organisation you’ll need to find workarounds such as direct engagement, traditional media and direct mail.

Characterising digital exclusion

Age and socio-economic group are the primary defining factors for the digitally excluded.

The proportion of adults who do not use the internet increases with age. Half of those aged 75 do not use the internet.

Digital access varies considerably by socio-economic group. Almost a quarter (23%) of those in households classified by the social economic groups D and E don’t use the internet.

D is classified as semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers. E includes individuals on a state pensioner, casual and lowest grade workers and the unemployed.

Ofcom reports that the reasons for not going online include lack of benefit, complexity and cost.

Peak internet adoption

It’s a situation that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Seven in ten who do not use the internet say that nothing would encourage them to go online in the next 12 months.

Those that do typically have low media literacy levels. Ofcom reports that newer users tend to be less likely than established users to possess critical awareness of media and online services.

Understanding who is at risk of being digitally left behind isn’t just about understanding who is not online; it also relates to the breadth of applications of the internet.

When those aged 55 and over and in the D and E socio-economic groups do go online, they are likely to be limited to a low number of applications or services.

One solution may lie in people asking someone else to access the internet on their behalf. Two in five who do not use the internet have asked someone else to use the internet on their behalf in the past year.

Photo by Pejmon Hodaee on Unsplash

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