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Bridging the Digital Divide

A third of CAB clients find themselves digitally excluded, according to new research.

In 2013, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) published a report entitled Offline and Left Behind which examined digital exclusion amongst Scotland’s citizens advice bureaux (CAB) clients. It found that a majority of Scottish CAB clients with a benefits issue would struggle to apply for benefits or jobs online and that they face a number of barriers to accessing and using the internet.

Since that report’s publication, improving digital access and inclusion has been a key focus of both the UK and Scottish governments.  We felt that the time was right to reassess where CAB clients were at in terms of their ability to get online and use computers and gauge what, if any, progress has been made.  In August 2015, we repeated this study in order to gauge this progress.  

Some of the key findings include:

Our research shows that one third of CAB clients find themselves excluded from the internet or computers.  While this represents a slight improvement from when we carried out our original research in 2013, deep challenges remain:

  • A third of clients were not proficient in using a computer and this could be related to the level of deprivation of the area they lived in. 
  • One third of clients did not access the internet or hardly ever accessed the internet which is higher than the national figure.  Younger respondents were more likely to use the internet than older clients.
  • However, digital inclusion appears to have slightly increased amongst clients overall between 2013 and 2015.  More clients reported being able to use a computer and get online.
  • Computers and smartphones were the two most common methods for accessing the internet.
  • Most clients (72%) access the internet at home, followed by at family or friends (29%), the library (15%) or work (14%).  The proportion of those saying they access the internet at the library decreased from 2013, when 45% of respondents then saying this was how they got online outside of the home.  This change may be attributable to the differences in samples, but could also be indicative of ongoing budgetary pressures faced by local authorities and the impact this may be having on local library services.
  • Those who did not access the internet also did not consider themselves proficient in using a computer.
  • Those least proficient in using a computer were found to be least likely to say that they wanted free training or support opportunities.  Those who were already proficient in using a computer were most interested in taking advantage of such opportunities. 
  • The majority of clients felt unable to apply for benefits or jobs online by themselves. 
  • The most common barriers experienced by clients were skills and confidence, practical access, health issues and online application processes.

The report also makes a number of recommendations designed to help increase the uptake of the internet and computers.

Patrick Hogan
Publication date
May 2016
Publication type
Number of pages