It’s been a big week for party manifestoes and yesterday marked the release of the Labour Party’s. With the election only three weeks away, the Labour Manifesto hasn’t included many surprises – Labour strategy has been extremely cautious and most of the bigger policies have been announced already. 

So what, if anything, will the proposals mean when it comes to tackling digital poverty? Here’s the breakdown:

Infrastructure

Here Labour have pledged full gigabit and 5G coverage by 2030. The Conservative Manifesto made a similar promise, and we evaluated it here. Our analysis remains the same: just having coverage is not enough to ensure people have access to good broadband and data. In areas where high speed internet exists, a significant number of people either remain with a (cheaper) low speed option, or do not have a connection at all. If a household cannot afford their internet bill or they lack the skills and confidence to get online, they will not.

Poverty

Not strictly a digital policy issue, but poverty is a key driver of digital poverty. Poverty is a major theme in the Labour Manifesto and lays out a number of changes to tackle it. This will include:

  • Increasing pay for people on minimum wage, by changing the remit of the Independent Low Pay Commission to account for the cost of living, abolish age bands for minimum wage workers and banning zero-hour contracts
  • Reducing fuel poverty through grants and low-interest loans to encourage investment into insulation, solar panels and low carbon heating
  • Reviewing Universal Credit to ‘make work pay and tackles poverty’

Assuming that these measures are able to significantly reduce current rates of poverty, this would likely have significant knock-on effects on digital poverty. According to Ofcom, around 29% of people struggle to afford communications services like broadband and mobile data, and research by Deloitte and the DPA revealed that 1 in 2 people living in ‘DE’ households (semi-skilled and unskilled manual occupations; unemployed and lowest grade occupations) experience digital poverty.

Digital poverty encompasses far more than just being able to afford devices and internet access, but without basic access, other aspects like skills, confidence and trust will always be out of reach.

Education

There was only a small piece in the Labour Manifesto about digital education, which briefly mentions a review of the curriculum, and the need to support children develop essential digital skills. How the review will approach teaching digital skills is unclear.

Acknowledging how important foundational digital skills are in modern education is a step in the right direction – education is the biggest factor in whether people have digital skills for work – and understanding that people need a quality digital education is an important step in implementing change. But meaningful change needs more than a single step and without knowing how any future changes will look, it is difficult to really be able to assess this pledge.

Thoughts on the 2024 Labour Manifesto

The Manifesto has been mixed in terms of digital poverty. The Labour Party have acknowledged that there is an urgent need to reduce poverty in the UK, and if they are able to do so, would help a huge number of people who cannot afford devices, or have to choose between ‘data or dinner’. On the other hand, promises relating specifically to digital poverty have been disappointingly thin. Whether this is due to Labour’s caution during this election campaign, or simply because there is no interest is unclear. Either way, the Labour Party must understand that digital poverty and wider poverty exist in a vicious cycle and without addressing digital poverty, the fight to reduce poverty will stall.

Phoebe Sleet is the Digital Poverty Alliance’s Policy and Insights Manager