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Offline groups reduce reach of digital public services

colourful bar chart with figures from Ofcom

Older people, those in less-skilled jobs and the unemployed are significantly less likely to have home internet connections, according to new research by Ofcom.

More than two-fifths of people aged 75 and over do not have any kind of home internet connection. Meaning they cannot use web-based services or send emails without help from family, friends or by using a public computer.

The same is true for around a quarter of those aged 65-74, as well as those in the D and E socioeconomic groups, who work in semi-skilled and unskilled manual jobs and the unemployed.

The data was released as part of the regulator’s Communications Market Report 2020 on 30 September. It drew on the organisation’s technology tracker survey, which carried out research with 3,959 people.

The research found that home internet access was lower for all three groups in Scotland. With the differences particularly significant for older people, with fewer than half aged 75 and over being online at home. The figures for England, Northern Ireland and Wales were close to the UK average.


Mobile telephones were the most common form of communication technology, used by the great majority even among older age-groups. This means that SMS text messaging has the greatest reach of any automated method of communicating.

The UK government took advantage of this, sending messages to all mobile phones in March to tell people to stay at home during the coronavirus lockdown. From 26-29 September the Notify service processed nearly 24 million text messages as the government used SMS to promote the NHS contact tracing app for England and Wales.

Ofcom’s research suggests that mobile apps have significantly less reach than SMS, web or email among older people, those in less-skilled jobs and out of work.


Ofcom’s data for 4G mobile phones, which are usually smartphones capable of running apps, shows they were used by:

  • just over half of 65-74 years-olds
  • two-thirds of those in the DE socioeconomic groups
  • fewer than a quarter of those aged 75 and over.

Smart speakers, which support app-like skills, are used by less than a quarter of all adults and smaller proportions of the specific groups.

This is an article in issue 21 of In our View. Read the whole issue: Shall we meet in the office?