Now we have finished our review of the Conservative and Labour Manifestos, we turn our attention to the parties who are projected to win some seats in parliament, but who might not form a government or opposition (although who knows what might happen on 4th July?).

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto was fairly interesting from a digital poverty perspective, at least compared to other parties. First, the Lib Dems have promised to “set… a UK-wide target for digital literacy”.

While digital infrastructure is a key component of digital access, it is encouraging to see a relatively large party take a different approach (although like both the Conservatives and Labour, the Lib Dems have also included plans to continue the rollout of gigabit internet). An individual without digital skills and capacity is still going to be digitally excluded, even with a high-speed internet connection. Hopefully the Liberal Democrats build on this in the future and consider ways that digital poverty increases the risk of poor digital and media literacy.  

The Liberal Democrats have also promised a ‘Digital Bill of Rights’ to protect online rights, and to establish new regulations for AI, including greater transparency and privacy measures. As part of this they have included the right to privacy, free expression and the right to be free from harassment online. They also plan to compel social media companies to publish reports on action to prevent online abuse against vulnerable groups.

Greens

The Green Party only have a little bit to say about digital, but like the Liberal Democrats, they have pledged to create a ‘Digital Bill of Rights’, which will, in part, ensure strong data protection controls and the regulation of artificial intelligence.

A Digital Bill of Rights that regulates how data is collected and stored and that places limits on AI might help improve trust in the digital world, particularly for those with limited digital and media literacy. In contrast to the Liberal Democrat pledges on digital rights, the Green Manifesto is slightly limited in its scope, focussing almost exclusively on data protection and the regulation of AI, which may reduce the efficacy of these proposals and the trust that can be built in digital technologies.

Scottish National Party

The Scottish National Party have relatively little to say about digital inclusion, which is disappointing in the wake of ongoing delays to their once-flagship promise to give laptops to every Scottish schoolchild. Instead, the SNP have made an interesting promise to call for a statutory social tariff for broadband and mobile data. If the SNP are successful, they will need to ensure that the tariffs are advertised well to the people who need them most. As of September, only 8.3% of eligible households have taken up a social tariff and only 55 per cent of eligible households are aware of social tariffs.

Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru are another party who appear chiefly interested in the provision of infrastructure as a solution to digital poverty. The Manifesto points out that rural and valley areas still experience poor connections and to target this, Plaid Cymru plans to invest in digital infrastructure and guarantee high-speed internet to every home and business. While of course being unable to access quality internet is a foundation of digital poverty, as we have discussed previously, it is not a guarantee that people will actually be able to get online.

Plaid Cymru is right to want to help hard to reach areas connect to the internet, but it ignores that while 95% of Welsh households can access superfast broadband, around 30 per cent have not taken it up at all. Additionally, only 62 per cent of Wales has access to good 4G coverage, while 5G coverage is the second lowest of the four UK nations.  

Reform

Reform’s technology and digital focus is mostly limited to how they can be used in the economy, but the Reform Manifesto does contain a small piece about promoting child-friendly, app restricted smartphones, and a review into social media harms. Similar themes around social media and children were found in the Conservative Manifesto – and our analysis is the same. Protecting children online is an important goal but ignores the 20 per cent of children who cannot learn at home because they lack access to suitable devices.

Our thoughts on the 2024 manifesto releases

The attention to digital poverty across parties in the lead-up to the election has been extremely variable. Most all parties have at least one policy that will help tackle some area of digital poverty – by upgrading physical infrastructure, or promoting online safety, or by tackling digital literacy education. Unfortunately, no party has released a manifesto that promises comprehensive, joined-up action or that even mentions digital poverty as an issue.

It is disappointing. Whichever side of the political divide we may lie on, digital poverty represents a problem. It is a key driver of poverty, of the widening digital skills gap in the economy and a barrier to a quality education. Whatever the government looks like after 4 July, we hope it realises that digital poverty is everyone’s problem.

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