Digital Inequity

Professor Chris Whitty states in the Chief Medical Officer’s Annual Report 2021, “Coastal communities, the villages, towns and cities of England’s coast, include many of the most beautiful, vibrant and historically important places in the country. They also have some of the worst health outcomes in England, with low life expectancy and high rates of many major diseases”.

Digital inequity is part of that.

Three types of digital equity exist:

  • digital connection: being able to access the same digital facilities and services as everyone else
  • digital employability: having an equal chance for jobs in the digital economy 
  • digitally-enabled: using digital to have an equal chance of participating in aspects of society otherwise denied.

Researchers at the University of Plymouth, including Professor Ray Jones and Professor Sheena Asthana – who contributed to the Chief Medical Officer's Report – and Professor Katharine Willis have been working to address these digital inequities and poor health outcomes in our coastal communities.

Digital connection

Digital connection equity requires broadband and skills. The unconnected or poorly connected are mainly older people but also people with visual or hearing loss. Better design of digital services and community efforts to ensure availability is needed across the UK.

Digital employability

Inequalities in digital employability is part of the ‘levelling up’ agenda. In coastal regions such as Cornwall traditional industries such as farming, mining, fishing, and port activity have all declined, with alternative, often high-wage digital sectors struggling to emerge resulting in an exodus of younger skilled people.

Digital enablement

Many coastal regions like Cornwall have social, environmental and heritage assets. While access to such cultural and environmental assets are known to improve health and wellbeing, equitable access is not always available to older people. Digital enablement (e.g. through virtual reality walking) can reconnect housebound older people with their local culture and community groups. Involving younger people in intergenerational co-creation could help improve all three types of digital equity.


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