It’s certainly not been a quiet month (year?) in British politics. Of course, trying to build or maintain contact with government is challenging enough without a regular churn of Ministers and leaders. However, the reality is – whoever is sitting in Number 10 – that to effect long term, systemic change, we need to be engaging with leading political parties from grassroots activists up.
That’s why this year the Digital Poverty Alliance made its debut trip to Labour and Conservative UK party conferences. In Liverpool, friends from Catch-22, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Currys joined us at a packed out Labour fringe event to discuss what needed to be done to end digital poverty. And we saw real support from our panellists’ calls, from ensuring corporations play their part to building a social security system that tackled poverty. At a similarly busy Conservative event in Birmingham, we heard from the Institute for Economic Affairs on how digital could boost the economy and from Digital Tories on why this had to feature as part of UK Government’s agenda.
Crucially, at both we saw a real appetite from party members for their party to simply do more. There was an energy about this, a real realisation that digital inclusion is now an absolute must across society. As we stood in the rain handing out leaflets advertising our event it could have been easy to feel, well, soggy and downhearted. But as more people went to wave ‘no thank you’ then on hearing the words ‘it’s about tackling digital poverty’ doubled back and said ‘oh actually yes, I’ll be there!’ it was easy to feel really positive about the support we already had. And it’s clear it’s growing.
And as we move into that time when general election manifestos are starting to be developed, that’s just what we need. We need those people who are active in their party to start making noise about digital inclusion and why it must feature strongly. And for our part, the Digital Poverty Alliance community as a whole will continue to build this momentum across political parties, across Government and Parliament.
So while Larry the Downing Street Cat might have his third flatmate of 2022, that doesn’t mean work to advocate for ending digital poverty has stopped – far from it. When Ofcom have just told us that eight million people are struggling to pay their broadband bills, it’s clear there’s no time to let up.
Jen Gracie, Head of Policy and Communications, Digital Poverty Alliance