More than half of charities concerned that service users cannot access digitally-provided support

More than half of charities are concerned about excluding service users after moving to online service delivery because of the coronavirus pandemic, new research shows.

The Charity Digital Skills Report, an annual barometer measuring digital skills, needs and attitudes in the sector, says charities have proved to be more digitally agile than in previous years and have adapted in line with the effects of the outbreak on the sector.

The report, which is based on research involving 365 charity professionals carried out between April and June, says 52 per cent of respondents were worried that some of their service users were missing out on services that had moved online.

It shows that 24 per cent said they were concerned their audience was not online, while 12 per cent said the charities themselves had struggled with basic access to technology.

Almost half (45 per cent) of charities said they provided their users with support, data or digital devices to access services online.

But more than one in five charities admitted to cancelling services because their main users did not possess the skills or technology to use them – an increase of 15 percentage points since the previous report last year.

The report, which was co-authored by the digital consultant Zoe Amar, Laura Clough, marketing manager at the online training marketplace The Skills Platform, and Nissa Ramsay, founder of the research consultancy Think Social Tech, found that more than one-third of respondents said remote working had been challenging, exhausting or isolating.

Almost one-third of charities said their staff were burned out from the demands of intense remote working.

The report says that 70 per cent of charities experienced an increase in demand for their service during the pandemic and 83 per cent of charities said they began offering an online service in response.

Almost eight out of 10 charities said they had used digital platforms to reach new audiences, while almost half (47 per cent) rated their digital delivery as only “fair”, with 28 per cent saying they felt it was “poor”.

But the proportion of charities that said they felt they had “excellent” basic digital skills has almost doubled over the past year, rising to 56 per cent compared with 29 per cent last year.

The survey found that 60 per cent of charities said they had a digital strategy, up 11 percentage points on last year.

Gilly Challinor, head of network delivery at the digital support charity Cast, said: "The past year has really highlighted and exacerbated the digital divide, where people who were already online prior to Covid-19 could continue to access many charity services.

“But those people who were previously digitally excluded could no longer access the crucial face-to-face support from charities that they had relied on before.

“Ensuring charities can reach the most vulnerable communities when digital service delivery is on the increase is a pressing need.

“As the sector moves to digital service delivery more and more, we must intentionally watch out for those people that we could be leaving behind."

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