UK National Delivery Plan 2023
Ensure affordable connectivity and guarantee access to devices and connectivity for those in need.
What already exists
The UK has established a robust ecosystem and infrastructure to support individuals to access data and devices. This includes initiatives delivered by Good Things Foundation, which comprises the National Data Bank, National Device Bank, and the National Digital Inclusion Network. The Learning Foundation and the DPA also have an initiative which has provided thousands of free laptops to beneficiaries over the last 18 months. . Community groups, housing associations, local and combined authorities, and charities provide a vast network of support in relation to device and data distribution. Additionally, employers play a key role through various initiatives to assist individuals in need. Activity is needed to scale up existing programmes of support and ensure that data and connectivity are easily accessible to everyone, especially those at the highest risk of digital exclusion.
The internet has had a transformative impact on society and is integrated into every aspect of our lives. It is crucial that access to the internet is seen as a fundamental right in the modern world. Despite the increasing number of people using the internet, considerable disparities still exist. Data and device poverty are pressing issues that are exacerbated by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. To tackle this challenge, concerted efforts are required in three key areas: enhancing the connectivity infrastructure, making internet access affordable, and ensuring open access to devices.
Part of the solution must focus on social tariffs as a mechanism to address the first level of the digital divide.19 This could take the form of an industry-wide social tariff supported by a new settlement between wholesale providers, internet service providers and the government in which costs are fairly shared between parties. However, while social tariffs are undoubtedly a crucial tool to improve access to connectivity, they are not the whole solution. Moreover, we know that even an affordable social tariff would not be sustainable for some priority groups. As such, we are calling on the UK government to ensure that those at most significant risk of digital exclusion are provided with devices, connectivity and support to ensure that everyone can benefit from digital access.
Actions for 2023/24 Phase 1
2.1 Raise awareness among all employers and tech users about donating devices for reuse.
2.2 Improve signposting to available schemes for support with devices and connectivity.
2.3 Promote awareness of sources of support for local groups or organisations wanting to address data poverty and device poverty.
2.4 Internet service providers pledge to expand data donation initiatives to help those in need.
2.5 Scale up the provision of centres for facilitated digital access funded by new government investment.
Actions by 2030 Phase 2-4
2.6 UK Government must ensure all communities can access a strong, reliable internet connection.
2.7 Investigate options for reducing VAT on broadband and mobile bills to 5% and implementing a digital inclusion levy.
2.8 Advocate for the removal of VAT on social tariffs.
2.9 Agreement between Government and ISPs for a co-funded industry-wide social tariff.
2.10 Creation of a government entitlement to free connectivity, devices and support to priority groups at the highest risk of exclusion.
2.11 Develop proposals to ensure universal access to 1:1 devices within the education system.
2.12 Advocate for DfE to conduct an evaluation of the Get Help with Technology scheme.
Theory of Change
- UK Digital Poverty Evidence Review
- National Delivery Plan
- National Delivery Committee
- Digital inclusion ecosystem
- Stakeholder engagement and support
Improving the connectivity infrastructure
The expansion of full-fibre broadband is a major strategic priority of the UK Government, and it has committed to rolling out gigabit-capable broadband to 85% of premises by 2025 and nationwide by 2030.20 There are, however, ongoing concerns as to whether the rollout will be sufficient to cover all premises in the UK. Furthermore, even where the connectivity infrastructure does exist, households’ ability to use it may be limited by other issues.
Currently, premises have the right to request a broadband connection with download speeds of at least 10mb/s and upload speeds of 1mb/s under the universal service obligation. However, for premises to receive a connection under the Universal Service Obligation (USO), they must sometimes pay beyond an excess cost threshold of £3,400, and for most households, this will be prohibitively expensive.21 Although it seems unlikely that the government will commit to raising the excess cost threshold anytime soon22, it may be necessary to review the universal service obligation over time, especially with respect to the longer-term sufficiency of existing minimum speed requirements. Alongside fixed-line connectivity, there is a crucial role for mobile and satellite connectivity-based solutions to ensure that good quality options are available for the most remote premises.
The UK Government has committed significant attention to addressing the issue of rural connectivity, including through Project Gigabit23, the Shared Rural Network24 and the UK Wireless Infrastructure Strategy.24 What is needed over the long term is continued action to ensure that everyone across the UK can access a good and reliable internet connection.
We recognise the importance of not being too prescriptive about the best solutions, as different regions and communities will require unique approaches. Yet, we also recognise that there is a long way to go. The 10-point plan for rural connectivity provides a good blueprint24, but it is important that the UK Government, Ofcom and telecoms sector work in collaboration to ensure that good and reliable connectivity is available across the UK.
Affordability and connectivity
A further significant issue when it comes to connectivity is the affordability of communications services. As of January 2023, research from Ofcom has shown that approximately 8.1 million households (29%) are struggling to afford communications service(s).25 In the context of the cost-of-living crisis, this will likely remain high for the foreseeable future. A key mechanism to help households struggling with affordability is through social tariffs, which provide discounted deals for households receiving certain types of state benefits.
However, the take-up of social tariffs remains minimal at approximately 5.1%.12 Low take-up of these tariffs may be due to several issues, including inadequate promotion by internet service providers, limited awareness of social tariffs among eligible groups, and concerns about the speed offered through these deals.
We believe that a range of actions can be taken to ensure that social tariffs are fit for purpose. Firstly, to bring prices down for consumers, the UK Government should act to remove VAT on social tariffs. Currently, 220,000 households claim these deals26, so assuming an average rate of £15 a month, the annual cost to the government of removing VAT would be approximately £7.92 million a year. However, this figure assumes that uptake remains at current levels.
Another option is for Government to mandate an industry-wide social tariff that is supported by a discount scheme. A scheme could operate by requiring all internet service providers to offer a social tariff subsidised by government investment. The subsidy would be provided at a fixed amount and would be used to offset most of the costs that internet service providers incur for network rental.5 The subsidy could take the form of a voucher scheme administered by the Department for Work and Pensions and eligibility could include recipients of universal credit, pension credit and personal independence payments.5 However, as part of a new settlement, it would be important to address the non-financial barriers to the uptake of social tariffs. For example, approximately 63% of eligible customers are unaware of social tariffs, 44% have concerns about speeds and 32% of customers are concerned about exit penalties for breaking existing contracts if they do switch.27 Therefore, a new settlement will need to take these barriers into account; internet service providers should be required to promote these deals to eligible customers, a minimum speed requirement should be guaranteed to meet households’ needs, and it should be easier for customers to move from existing contracts when they are eligible for social tariffs.
To fund the scheme, the government may consider going further with VAT by cutting the rate charged on all broadband and mobile bills from 20% to 5%. This cut would bring these services in line with the domestic VAT rate charged for energy bills, reflecting the status of the internet as an essential utility. However, the cut in VAT could then be replaced by a digital inclusion levy that would be applied to broadband and mobile bills and used to subsidise social tariffs.28
Potentially, this levy could also be directed to helping priority groups that may not be able to afford a subsidised social tariff. This would form part of a government guarantee to provide devices, connectivity, and support to individuals at the highest risk of digital exclusion. Careful consideration would need to be given to the eligibility and identification of priority groups, but this assistance could be delivered through existing community and third-sector networks. Similar initiatives have been piloted, such as a programme between DWP and TalkTalk to offer free broadband connectivity to job seekers for six months.16 The important aspect of the guarantee, however, is that it will need to be sustainable for priority groups over the long term and provide a joined-up approach to give people devices and support alongside free connectivity.
Access to devices
The other significant issue with respect to sustainable digital inclusion is the affordability and accessibility of devices. There are various established programmes that offer free or low-cost devices to those in need, including the National Device Bank (led by Good Things Foundation), the Learning Foundation and DPA device refurbishment and distribution programmes, employer donation schemes, as well as devices provided through schools, colleges, universities, local authorities, retailers, corporates and charitable groups and community organisations. Yet despite the range of support that is available, evidence reveals that there is still significant demand for access to devices. The Nominet Digital Youth Index finds that 26% of young people do not have access to a laptop29 and Ofcom estimates that 21% of adults only access the internet via a smartphone.30
To bridge this gap, action is required to scale up device donations from individuals, employers, and government. Employers need to pledge to donate devices, but there also needs to be more active device donations and recycling from government departments at local, regional and national levels. This should go hand in hand with efforts to address and overcome obstacles that may impede device donation, such as data security and privacy concerns. Communicating the rationale for device donation should be heavily focussed on individual, corporate and governmental priorities with respect to the climate agenda, corporate social responsibility and sustainability, the circular economy and the Government’s net-zero targets. Efforts will also be made for DPA members to work with charity and community partners to improve signposting and awareness raising amongst potential beneficiaries about the availability of support.
However, we know that for some digitally excluded people, the provision of devices alone will not be sufficient. This is why it will be critical to ensure the maintenance and expansion of centres for facilitated access where individuals can get access and support from trusted advisers in a safe and inclusive environment. The primary mechanism for this support is available through the National Digital Inclusion Network, led by Good Things Foundation, which includes libraries, community centres and digital hubs, as well as from other local organisations. It will be important to advocate for libraries to provide access on a sustainable basis, especially in the context of the new DCMS Public Libraries Strategy and the continued work of organisations like Libraries Connected.
A lack of devices can also have a substantial impact on the quality of learning within the education system. The pandemic highlighted that one in five children did not have access to a device that was appropriate for remote learning.31 The lack of suitable devices for students worsens educational inequalities, and while Scotland has introduced a scheme to provide free devices for all school pupils through the Connecting Scotland programme, the initiative has faced implementation challenges. A universal guarantee for all pupils would lead to inefficiencies, so a more targeted approach towards achieving universal access may be more effective. However, the demand for devices is also likely influenced by the DfE’s Get Help with Technology scheme, which allocated 1.95 million laptops for school children up until 2022.32 Thus, a current assessment of demand for devices is needed to establish a targeted support programme for pupils with the greatest need. It will be critical to ensure that universal access is provided to ensure that all school pupils and young people can access technology and thrive in their education.
Why digital access matters:
Helping families to thrive.
What families have said about why digital access matters to them:
I can’t express how much this will benefit my children and help them advance in their education, along with how much it will save us all trailing to the library and to family members houses to borrow their computers/laptops. I will be forever grateful; thank you so much.
– Tech4Families recipient
It really has made a huge difference already, his reading and writing skills have increased significantly, and he is far more confident in his course work using the laptop. I couldn’t thank you enough for the hard work you do, and the impact it has on those who are struggling to get by.
– Tech4Families recipient
Getting these laptops has been a fantastic help to me and my girls. I could not afford to get them myself and the girls need them for their schoolwork. I was embarrassed that I could not get them myself and I am so grateful to get these! I was worried, especially my older daughter who is 14, was getting teased at school about not having her own and having to use the one at school. There is so much need for technology these days, more than when I was at school.
– Tech4Families recipient
For families, access to technology is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but an essential requirement of modern life. However, in the current context, many families are struggling to afford essential access to devices and connectivity.
During the pandemic, one in five home-schooled children didn’t have access to an appropriate device. Children without access are missing out on education and opportunities that could improve their life chances.
This is why Currys and the DPA collaborated on the Tech4Families project, which helps families who need a laptop to get one.
The first wave of the scheme has been rolled out across five areas: Staffordshire, West Cumbria, and the Norfolk coast in England; Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend in Wales; and Ayrshire in Scotland. Any family with a school-aged child between four and 16 without access to a suitable device at home can apply, and the scheme is not means-tested. Applications are verified by a member of the community, such as a teacher or councillor.
Currys uses Pennies, a charity that helps facilitate micro-donations from customers at tills in stores, to fund Tech4Families. The money raised is turned into laptops for families in need.
Tech4Families provides families with a laptop that they can keep and is not a rental or a loan. This addresses an immediate need and provides families with access to the digital world, which has improved schoolwork for children. Parents have also been able to use the devices to keep in touch with relatives, pay bills online, access essential services and apply for jobs.
One of the biggest challenges for Tech4Families is the sheer scale of eligible applications and the high demand for the scheme. Despite raising over £200,000 and delivering 600 laptops to families in need across the five areas, there is still a long way to go, and with the cost-of-living crisis set to continue, demand is likely to increase further.
Pledge Action Today
Take the next step – find out how you and your organisation can use the National Delivery Plan’s six missions to address digital poverty in the UK.
Read the overview
We have condensed the following National Delivery Plan 2023 into a 10 page PDF. This provides an overview of our approach, the six missions and their suggested actions.