A UK House of Commons report on digital skills (published today) provides evidence which supports the contention that significant numbers of the population, even of a well educated and wealthy country are not capable of using the internet. This is, of course, a crucial issue for those developing online systems in the courts and for advice.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s report on the digital skills crisis contains a short summary of the current state of the digital divide. It accepts estimates that:
- 23 per cent of the overall UK population (12.6m people) lack basic digital skills (4.5m of these are in work);
- Of those lacking digital skills, 49 per cent are disabled; 63 per cent over 75; and 60 per cent have no educational qualifications;
- women have lower skills than men (74 to 80 per cent);
- just under half of those without skills may never have used the internet;
- 10 per cent of the population may always be unable to use the internet because of severe disability or poor literacy skills;
- half of those who are digitally excluded are likely to have a disability;
- only 51 per cent of people with a disability are internet users;
- 84 per cent of the population overall are internet users; and
- Lloyds Bank indicates that the problem is just not with individuals: 1.2 small businesses in the UK lack basic digital skills.
So, all in all, there is nothing here which would be contrary to the estimate that, of the population which was once eligible for civil legal aid on a free or contributory basis, half may be unable to use digital services. Disproportionately, they are likely to have a disability, be elderly and female. As a result, the policy conclusion must be that it is worth developing online provision but it cannot be exclusive. Legacy, paper-based systems will need to run alongside developments like online small claims courts even if they impede the imminent sale of physical assets.