House of Lords Library

Digital Skills in the United Kingdom

Published Thursday, August 10, 2017

This Lords Library briefing has been prepared in advance of a debate scheduled to take place in the House of Lords on 7 September 2017 about the importance of digital understanding at all levels of society. It provides an overview of what is meant by ‘digital skills’ and surveys recent literature on access to, and use of, the internet across society. It then considers digital skills in relation to the economy and sets out key proposals contained in the Government’s UK Digital Strategy 2017. It concludes with an exploration of the term ‘digital understanding’ and highlights recent Ofcom findings on adults’ media use and attitudes.

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Digital technology has transformed UK and global society, both in the workplace and at home. Given the continuing advances in digital technology, the importance of digital skills to both the economy and the ability of people to function in an increasingly digital world have been emphasised. In 2017, Lloyds Bank reported that 11.5 million people in the UK lacked basic digital skills, and the Office for National Statistics estimated 9 percent of people had never used the internet. Research has indicated that age, disability, social class, income and the age at which people leave education are indicators of internet use. In 2016, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee suggested that the UK was facing a “digital skills crisis”, citing a 2013 study showing that the UK needed “745,000 additional workers with digital skills to meet rising demand from employers over the period 2013–2017”. The digital skills gap was “costing the UK economy an estimated £63 billion a year in lost GDP”.

In recent years, a number of measures have been introduced to improve digital skills in the UK. In September 2014, a new computing programme of study for the national curriculum was introduced. In March 2017, the Government published its UK Digital Strategy 2017, which suggested that 90 percent of all jobs within the next 20 years “will require some element of digital skills”. The Strategy included measures to reduce digital exclusion and improve core digital skills. It also proposed taking forward the recommendations of the Shadbolt Review to “ensure computer science students have the real-world, up to date skills needed in the digital economy”. However, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho has suggested that the UK should celebrate not just digital skills but “digital understanding” which she defines as the “ability to both use technology and to comprehend, in real terms, the impact that it has on our lives”.

Lords Library notes LLN-2017-0051

Author: Samuel White

Topics: Adult education, Information technology, Internet and cybercrime, Media, Regulation, Schools

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