Who is at risk of digital exclusion? It’s not always obvious.

“What a blessing this service has been for me and I’m truly grateful for all the support you have given me.”[1]

PCrefurb has been helping to bridge the digital divide since 2018 by providing refurbished IT equipment and digital skills training to those in need. Since then, brought into focus even more during the pandemic, the term ‘digital exclusion’ has become part of a wider conversation. It is becoming better recognised that access to the online world is no longer a luxury, but a necessity – it is a social issue that can even have an impact on life expectancy.[2]

Digital divide

How does exclusion happen?

Without thinking about it for too long you can imagine some circumstances in which PCrefurb can help.[3] The obvious one is those experiencing financial poverty, for example:

  • People who can’t afford suitable IT equipment so are unable to access basic services, such as managing benefits, accessing health services and more.
  • People who become unemployed and need to retrain through online courses.
  • Someone whose response to the cost-of-living crisis is to cancel their broadband service.

Consider other circumstances such as:

  • A family fleeing domestic violence that has had to leave everything behind, including devices used by children preparing for final exams.
  • A widower who relied on his wife to run the household finances on their computer and didn’t know where to start, his grief making learning new things even harder.
  • A foodbank needing IT equipment for a new volunteer administrator due to ever growing demand.
  • Carers supporting loved ones who must consequently spend more time at home who need to keep in touch and access medical services.
  • Refugees seeking asylum, not permitted to work, but still being expected access to everyday services online.
  • A homeless victim of crime who needs a phone to help him find accommodation.
  • Someone, during lockdown, who urgently needed to attend an online court hearing to discuss custody of their child.

Someone who is digital excluded could also be:

  • A person whose bank branch has closed, and they don’t know how to use online banking.
  • A victim of cyber-crime, frightened at the prospect of being online, particularly social media, who wants to stay connected with friends.
  • Someone whose health or well-being restricts their opportunities to work and socialise and being online is a lifeline.
  • A person who has never been online and doesn’t want to be, but who is told, correctly or not, that they can only order a repeat prescription by making the request online.
  • Someone who wants to renew their passport but is told, on making a special visit to their Post Office, they can only make changes to their paper application online – they have never used the Internet.

What is the reality?

Perhaps harder to imagine, reading this online as you are, is not being able to get online at all. Try it for a moment. Bliss, you may think – a digital detox – a relief? But think for a bit longer about running your everyday life. Take your pick: no WiFi, no phone data, no email, no social media, no working online, no TV, music or video streaming, no online calendars or reminders, no checking the traffic or public transport, no online banking, no comparing best deals on energy bills, no cloud services, no booking appointments or tickets online, no online gaming, no online shopping, no click and collect, no job searching, no sharing photos, no video calls, no quick fact-checking, no smart watch, no location sharing, no connecting with government or local services, the list goes on. Of course, there is a spectrum – how much would you go without before starting to consider yourself digitally excluded? Some of these may be luxuries, but others are not.

The risk of digital exclusion is not limited to any particular demographic. You could have the latest tech but not be confident using it. You could have the know-how but not the device. Your circumstances could change overnight, and you may need to gain a whole range of new skills to keep pace with rapidly changing expectations of the job market or learn to keep in touch with family far away.

In a world where being online is now seen as the norm, the inequalities between those of us that enjoy the benefits of online networks, entertainment, social lives, hobbies, jobs and more, and those who are in some way digitally excluded are becoming even greater.

Make a difference

At PCrefurb, with the help of our funders, donors and supporters, we do our best to improve digital inclusion in our community.

If you would like to help change someone’s life by improving their access to the online world, please consider ways in which you could support us:

  • A donation of money could help us with equipment refurbishing, client data costs, skills training and more.
  • Could you organise a fundraising challenge?
  • Could you collect unwanted working smart phones, tablets or laptops from colleagues, friends or family?
  • Could your business direct unwanted IT equipment to PCrefurb?
  • Do you have experience in the charity sector that you could share?
  • Could you support us in your networks and on social media?
  • Could you share what we do by telling people you know?

If, so, do get in touch. Thank you for taking the time to consider the social issue of digital exclusion and for your interest in what PCrefurb is trying to do about it.

Helen Melhuish
Chief Officer
26th November 2022

[1] A comment from someone we helped with a laptop and digital skills training, giving her practical support to help her set up her own business after spending 19 years disabled and on benefits.

[2] https://www.goodthingsfoundation.org/the-digital-divide/

[3] These are real cases experienced by PCrefurb. There are very many more.

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