Reverting to paper: Digital barriers compound for the most disadvantaged young people

Approximately 2.2 million (15%) young people have a smartphone but no access to a laptop or desktop

One in five (20%) young people do not have access to a laptop or desktop computer, increasing to 26% of those in C2DE social grades and 30% of those living in households with a combined income below £20,000. 15% (approximately 2.2 million) of young people have a smartphone but no access to a laptop or desktop.

Almost one in ten (9%) aren’t satisfied with the device they have access to, increasing to 15% of those with a household income of less than £20,000.

While 87% of young people have a smartphone as their primary means of communication, our qualitative research with teachers highlights these are not ideal for learning.

A third (32%) of young people do not have access to home broadband.

Graph showing access to different devices by income

Why does this matter?

Whether it is an inadequate device that can’t run the right software, a smartphone-only household, a shared device, limited or no internet access – there is a huge variety of digital barriers limiting the ability to maintain education. This has been pronounced when going into school or college is not possible or digital systems are increasingly used to compliment traditional classrooms. And digital barriers are more likely to persist in disadvantaged households. It only takes one of these barriers to isolate a young person from access to education, to teachers, and to peers.


  • What questions of quality should we ask when distributing devices?
  • Who will fall through the gaps of not being eligible for devices, but struggle to perform tasks because of their own device quality?
  • How can we better understand comprehensively the digital barriers to education and how they interact with one another?

Approximately 2.2 million (15%) young people have a smartphone but no access to a laptop or desktop

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Physical & mental wellbeing
Silhouette of young person using phone

13 December 2021

Risks and online support

Nearly 3 in 5 (58%) young LGBTQ+ people, and over 2 in 5 (43%) of young people who are Black, Asian or another ethnic minority, have experienced hate speech online, compared to 37% of young people overall.

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Physical & mental wellbeing
Young person in forest taking pictures with phone

13 December 2021

Mental health and wellbeing

Although many young people report that their use of the internet and digital devices has a positive impact on their mental health there is a notable increase by age of young people reporting a negative impact.

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Digital skills and careers
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13 December 2021

Left to own devices

Young people who are not in any form of education, employment or training are far more likely to be teaching themselves digital skills (73%), as are those in the C2DE social grade (52%).

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