For those who do not yet know me, my name is Natalie, I am the policy and admin assistant here at the Digital Poverty Alliance. I attend the University of Birmingham studying Social Policy and am fortunate enough to have access to digital which enables me to navigate the online world. Life for me, however, has not always been this way.
I grew up in a Northern town called Darlington, where my family worked hard to provide for me and my sister. When my parents divorced, we faced economic hardship, dipping below the poverty line and struggling to put food on the table. My mam, who worked extremely hard, could not afford digital. With the electricity meter running out, there was no way we could handle the cost of a laptop, tablet or broadband. I still chuckle when I remember the telling offs my sister and I got for watching TV or taking too long in the shower. We simply could not afford the expense of the TV or a hot shower.
Those in power are often quick to label people who find themselves under the poverty line as ‘lazy’ and/or ‘feckless’ but for the large majority, this is simply not true. My parents worked hard but with the cost of living being so high, and the welfare system not supporting us, we, as many others do, seriously struggled. The DPA are changing things, providing devices and connectivity to families who otherwise would not have any. This is not just about giving people a device, but about giving skills to people who do not have the knowledge of how beneficial the online world can be.
Not only does digital allow for parents to search for jobs, and to learn how to modernise CVs to fit the online world but, it transforms the learning process for children at school. As part of my GCSEs, I chose IT, this at the time seemed brilliant as I did not consider the barriers I faced choosing this subject. It soon became clear to me that, if I was to achieve a good grade, I would have to stay back long after school finished to finish work that other pupils could finish at home. I did not have the appropriate device or connectivity to complete the work required of me. These are not the only implications. Not having the appropriate access to digital has far reaching consequences.
These consequences can be seen during the pandemic. School was moved online, but what about the kids that did not have access? How were they to learn? Questions like these are lost in a society which assumes that everybody has access to digital. Of course, living below the poverty line, the main concerns are food and shelter. These are, however, merely tools to survive. To thrive in an increasingly online world, devices, connectivity, and skills training need to be expected, not treated as a luxury.
Now I am at university, I was able to use my student loan to buy a laptop which enabled me to get online. I am fortunate for this, however, this is not the case for so many others. During this period of GCSE results, we ask you to consider those who do not have the access that is taken for granted, we ask you to consider the implications that not being online has on learning, and we ask that you support our mission to end digital poverty by 2030.
Natalie Jubb, Policy and Admin Assistant at the Digital Poverty Alliance