August 31, 2011 8:59 pm

Online push fails to reach 8.7m Britons

The number of adults in the UK using the internet has increased by just 500,000 in the past year, despite concerted government efforts to get more people online.

Some 8.73m Britons have never used the internet, according to figures on Wednesday from the Office for National Statistics, a reduction from the 9.2m reported a year ago.

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Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of Lastminute.com, was named the government’s “digital champion” last year and has launched a campaign – Race Online 2012 – to get another 4m people using the internet by next year.

The government last year announced a £30m cash injection for the scheme, which will be distributed to UK online centres – a network of 3,500 community-based IT facilities.

Ms Lane Fox said the figures showed how important it was for the network of 100,000 volunteers who have been recruited for the Race Online project to push forward internet education.

Meanwhile, Age UK has been running campaigns to get older people to go online. The charity said it had introduced 200,000 to the technology over the past few years. However, according to ONS figures, there are still about 5.7m people over the age of 65 who have never used the internet.

The government is keen to get enough of the population using the internet so it can smove services online to save money. It is experimenting with a new, all-in-one website that would simplify the way people can access government information.

A study by PwC, the professional services firm, last year suggested that there would be an economic benefit of £22bn for the UK if all citizens were online. Getting the digitally excluded to use the internet for even one transaction with the government each month would save the country £900m annually, according to the report.

In addition to the elderly, the disabled were the largest group of non-internet users. Some 4.24m disabled adults had never used the internet, more than a third of the total disabled adult population.

In contrast, virtually all those aged 16 to 24, and those on incomes of more than £1,000 a week, were internet users.

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