70% of people who live in social housing don't have internet access – or do they?

Anabel Palmer and Dylan Martlew at NDI10
Anabel Palmer and Dylan Martlew at NDI10

I’ve just got back from  the National Digital Inclusion conference – very, enjoyable.  I was particularly interested in the strand on social housing and digital inclusion which has spun off the work chaired by Helen Milner on just that problem.

At the forefront of  the case that Social Landlords are key to tackling digital inclusion is that 70% of their tenants do not have internet access at home.   It is a figure that appears in the first sentence of the introduction to the  Social Housing Providers Digital Inclusion Action Plan 2010 (pdf):

Research shows 70% of people who live in social housing do not use the internet. That means they’re missing out on all the benefits, opportunities and conveniences computers and the internet can provide – essential public services, instant communication, commercial comparisons and online bargains, job searches and applications.

That figure is sourced to the Office of National Statistics, 2008 and it seems that things are changing quickly. Anabel Palmer of Southern Housing Group and Dylan Martlew of Knowle West Media Centre have both recently done research on internet availability in the home of social housing tenants.  One found 56% of households are connected,  for the other the same figure was 67% with internet access. Listen to them sharing their thoughts on this:

Naturally we would need to check that they are measuring exactly the same but are these numbers an oddity?  There’s no reasons to suppose they are.  Southern Housing Groups 2008 survey found 30% using the net, which matched the national figure then.   Now they find 67% using the net.

It does not mean that there is not important work to be done by social landlords to help close the digital divide (for those who want it closed).   Many of their tenants might benefit from much wider use of digital tools – but have never really been exposed to them, or may have barriers to using them.

But it does show how quickly internet access is being taken up by those who see some sense in using it.


  1. Barney Fudge says:

    Social housing surveys will of course tend to include large numbers of old people, especially people with health problems such as arthritic hands (can’t use a keyboard) and bad eyesight (can’t read from the screen) – who won’t be using the net. That such figures are not being broken down by age and schooling suggest they’re more important for political brow-beating than for getting at the truth.

  2. Dave Briggs says:

    I was at a deprived housing estate in Norfolk recently, where about 75% of people had broadband at home. I think it is easy to make well meaning assumptions about these things. But too often the whole digital inclusion thing is seen as a good reason not to do interesting online things, which is a shame.

  3. Nick Booth says:

    Thanks for the comment Barney. There may be a breakdown, I just haven’t seen it. In the interview Anabel talks about a core group without access are those who have always been out of work and who’s families before may have been.

    Hello Dave – I get your point. I was talking to over 100 managers at Sandwell Council this morning and when I shared these figures with them it raised their confidence that web stuff can be very practical. At the moment though I think all social landlords need to use all relevant means of communication – so the savings are not immediate.

    As someone said in one the sessions – the savings only really become apparent when someone loses a job because the system has become more efficient.

  4. Najm says:

    Think that the age thing is a bit of a red herring – accessibility, screen readers and modified hardware are all aimed at helping those with disabilities use the net. Also there are lots of silver surfers out there. To suggest that the figures are skewed because there are a large proportion of elderly in social housing could be misleading. I’d be interested to know what the ratio of net use in the over sixties is in social housing is compared to those not in social housing for example

  5. Helen Milner says:

    Hi. Happy to comment here. The 70% figure measures people’s use (or non-use in this case) of the internet – so if a home is connected to broadband that doesn’t count, it’s about the people who live there and whether they use it. (70% came from Oxford Internet Survey and ONS in 2007.) The other useful statistic is that 28% of everyone who’s not online lives in social housing – that’s ICM (for UK online centres) in 2008.

    I don’t think this is a reason not to provide services online. Indeed I said yesterday that we ought to think about online being the ONLY channel (with support and mediation for some).

    These statistics provide an opportunity to work with social housing providers – as we’ve been doing to produce the Action Plan – and as we’ve done at the national digital inclusion conference over the past couple of days.

    Hot news – Peabody Trust and Southern Housing have promised today to get everybody living in one of their sheltered houses to get online. It’s great to see progressive Housing Associations making these kinds of promises.

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