As family Zoom calls, home working and internet shopping have become a larger part of the country’s day-to-day lives, over 49 million people are now online across the UK, with a national rise fuelled by a spike in the number of older people using the web.
In East Lancashire 93.8% of adults surveyed by the Office for National Statistics between January and March 2020 had been online in the previous three months – an estimated 242,000 residents.
That was up from 91.7% in 2019, and higher than the average across the UK, where 92.1% of over-16s regularly use the internet.
Usage has risen slightly since 2017, the earliest year for which figures are available. That year, 92.5% of adults in East Lancashire were regularly on the web.
Although internet use has increased across the UK, 3.4 million people surveyed by the ONS in 2020 said they had never used the web – and more than 60% of them were aged 75 and over.
But the number of older people regularly using the internet is rising rapidly, closing the age gap with younger users.
Last year, 54% of over-75s nationally said they had used the internet in the last three months – up from 47% the year before, and a huge leap from 20% in 2011.
The ONS suggested that the sharp rise in use among older people last year could be partly related to the effects of the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, as millions of people began to head online to stay in touch with friends and family.
However, the figures should not be used as an overall indicator of its impact, the ONS said, as the data was gathered between January and March 2020, just as the coronavirus outbreak began in the UK.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said the 2 million over-75s still offline are at risk of being excluded from an "increasingly digital world".
She said: "All older people should have the support and encouragement to get online if they want to but it’s essential that those who are offline, for whatever reason, should still be able to access services and support in a way that suits them.
"There’s no doubt that technology has been a real lifeline for many older people during the pandemic, with many relying on video calls and email to keep in touch with family and friends.
"But our research suggests a lack of digital skills and confidence is a barrier that prevents many over-75s getting online, alongside the associated costs."
She added that one-to-one support and free or subsidised kit can help older people overcome such difficulties, but "sustained" investment is needed to get more pensioners online.
Different ONS data shows 89% of adults across the UK used the internet daily or nearly every day in 2020, up from 35% in 2006, when records began.
Internet banking, sending and receiving emails and finding information about goods and services are the most common reasons for internet use, the data revealed.