Over the last 12 months, many local authorities have repurposed their regional strategies with the emphasis very much centred on digitisation, and according to a report published by Lloyds Bank, Welsh citizens increased their online transactions by 31% in the last year. The average spend per transaction was £60, while the total per person per annum rose to £2,149.
According to Nicola Bannister, the Lloyds ambassador for Wales, nearly 50% of Welsh residents said they would not have fared as well as they did during the pandemic without access to the World Wide Web. As the figures quoted above show, many have taken advantage of internet access to shop online. They have also used social networks to stay in close touch with friends and loved ones,
But while the increase is to be applauded, it also has to be realised that Wales was last in the table in terms of populations using the internet. It appears that 13% of Welsh residents had not used the internet in the past three months. This compares to only 3% of Londoners and 5% of the population of England as a whole.
It is perhaps even more worrying given that we are still amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. Among those Welsh citizens who use the internet, 21% said that the pandemic has resulted in them spending a little more time online. But according to the Lloyds survey, 12% of people don’t think their digital prowess has improved.
They did, however, feel their digital skills need improving. At least that highlights an opportunity to increase digital engagement in the future – an opportunity that Lloyds are acting upon by offering improved training through free courses for Welsh Citizens via their Academy.
But it is not just about the reluctance of some of the Welsh population to embrace the internet. It’s about internet availability too.
Just a few days ago, an article appeared on the countytimes.co.uk website headlining that the digital divide in Wales is only getting larger.
It reported that more than 50% of people interviewed believed the internet access they had was not fast or reliable enough. It went on to say that only 50% of people living in rural areas had access to standard broadband, while just 36% could access superfast broadband. Not only that, 66% said their households had been affected by substandard broadband.
The situation is better in urban areas where 67% have access to superfast broadband whereas 18% do not. In the meantime, the rollout of hi-speed internet trundles on. It has just been announced that another 7,309 properties in Conwy have been allocated the service. But for the “hardest to reach final third” of the UK, the national rollout will not be completed until well into 2024.
The vast majority of people feel that the internet provides more by way of advantages than disadvantages. In 2020, this was the response of 88% of people, and in 2021 that figure rose to an average of 90% (93% of office workers and 88% manual). In addition, 72% of respondents said that increased internet use also helped them to save money in terms of things like reduced train fares and paying bills by direct debit.
But although more Welsh citizens are spending more time and money shopping online, the COVID-19 pandemic has made them more circumspect. 53% of people interviewed said they are now concentrating on becoming debt-free.
With greater access to the internet, over 91% of the populace are managing their finances online. 60% say that they feel they have a greater degree of control over their money than they had 12 months ago and as a result, they feel more relaxed.
However, there are still many Welsh citizens who are not happy. 26% of respondents said they are still suffering under pressure from their household financial situation and feel constantly stressed out.
But there is some good news too. A piece published in the North Wales Chronicle reported record savings over the past year as the pandemic imposed restrictions took hold.
If there is anything positive to come from the pandemic, it has to be the wariness it has imposed on people and their financial situation. Efforts toward becoming free of debt and saving money for the future are to be welcomed. Perhaps, for those who can afford it, now is the time to think about the greater use of savings accounts such as a Stocks ISA account.
The interest rates on ordinary savings accounts are simply too low. They are so low that, in real terms, savings are not keeping up with inflation. A Stocks and Shares ISA, however, outperforms ordinary savings account interest by several percentage points. For those who are not risk-averse, it has to be a genuine consideration.