After a summer of watching and waiting, at last we know who our new Prime Minister will be, after she meets HM the Queen tomorrow. Mrs Truss has been vocal about how she plans to deal with the cost of living crisis, yet there remains minimal uptake on measures to tackle digital poverty.
At a time when prices are rising, being online has never been more important. It’s a well established fact that skills and networks are key to raising individuals and families out of poverty, and where do we find skills and networks now? Online. Truss has built her political career on a platform of equality of opportunity, and if this is something she continues to believe in, we hope that she will recognise the need to build digital access into her wider policy agenda.
Online access, tackling digital poverty, is vital for accessing education (so much homework is now online), finding jobs, upskilling in a world where technology moves quickly. The DPA highlights how healthcare, welfare, finding the best deals, and so much more is all done online these days. Yet millions of people remain offline. Millions more are struggling to pay their broadband bills. The challenges today – rising costs caused by the war in Ukraine and the ongoing fallout of the Covid pandemic – will only exacerbate the challenges of digital poverty.
The Digital Strategy failed to cover digital inclusion, and the Levelling Up whitepaper talked about Gigabit Britain without focussing on how to move more people online – with 6% of the population not connected, and 2.5 million households unable to afford a connection. This isn’t just about money, of course, it’s about motivation, and it’s about giving people the confidence to get online. It’s about a joined up strategy that recognises that digital is a basic right, and that the UK will only “succeed” if its people are given the tools to do this. 67% of people would learn more about digital skills if they knew where to find help, but finding these skills needs to fit into their lives, and not simply rely on people proactively seeking support – especially when so many sources of support are to be found online. Support needs to be where people are, not where we assume they go.
We also know that this is a UK wide problem, often hitting working class areas left behind by a focus on cities. Our Tech4Families scheme has started in five such areas covering coastal and rural communities. Recent data shows that areas such as the Tees Valley, Lincolnshire and Northern Ireland are some of the areas where people are least likely to be online. At a time when Levelling Up counts, tackling digital poverty could be a realistic way to empower communities to define their own brighter future.
So what would I like to see Mrs Truss commit to instantly?
- I would be keen to see immediate action, focusing on digital poverty as being a serious issue on a par with food poverty and fuel poverty.
- A commitment to the five policy principles set out by the DPA, including that digital is a basic right.
- And agreeing to work with the Digital Poverty Alliance on our National Delivery Plan, ensuring that digital poverty could be looked at in a joined up way across Government.
Digital exclusion covers so many areas. With 42% of children lacking the connectivity they need to excel in their education, and 82% of jobs needing digital skills, we can see that this is something that needs tackled. So, our question to the new Prime Minister is – are you up for it?
Elizabeth Anderson, Chief Operating Officer at the Digital Poverty Alliance