UK net use grows despite digital inequalities

image captionChildren and families are key users of the web

More Britons than ever have access to the internet, but inequalities remain between those with high and low incomes, official figures show.

In its first ever collation of trends in "e-society", the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that some 19.2 million households now have net access.

But that includes just 26% of those on the lowest incomes, the report says.

Families and children are at the heart of UK web use, with 83% of families with children having online access.

The figures, published by the ONS, show that the proportion of UK households online has grown from 57% in 2006 to 73% in 2010.

Of those, 96% of the highest 10% of earners were online, compared to little more than one-quarter of the lowest 10%.

A nation of bankers

However, the costs of access and technology were not cited as the most important factor keeping people offline.

An increasing proportion of people - almost 40% - said they simply do not need the internet at home, while some 22% complained that a lack of skills hampered their efforts.

The new research also highlights emerging trends among web users.

By 2009, some 44% of UK internet users had a profile on at least one social networking site, the report says - double the number who had one in from in 2007.

image captionSocial networking and content sharing has become a key online activity

E-mail remained the most frequently-used online activity, used by 90% of respondents, with information resources and travel planning the next most popular.

More than half of those asked (54%) said they used internet banking, making it the UK's fourth most well-used internet activity.

Children's growing early adoption of new technology is also evident. Two-thirds of children aged 5-15 who own a mobile phone had their device by the time they were 10, figures show.

A further 27% had acquired their phone by the time they were eight years old.

Concerns remain over the vulnerability of young children and teenagers to sexually inappropriate content or behaviour online, with 59% described as "very worried" or "rather worried" about their children's online activities.

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