Menu

Login to access your account

Sun, 7 June 2020

Personalise Your Politics

Subscribe now
The House Live All
Coronavirus
Coronavirus
Home affairs
Press releases

To protect the most vulnerable, we must close the digital divide

To protect the most vulnerable, we must close the digital divide

Unless we fix the inequalities to access to connectivity as soon as possible, not only will we further cut off vulnerable people during this unprecedented period of isolation, but we will see the effects of our inaction years into the future, says Julie Elliott MP | Credit:PA Images

4 min read

In times of social distancing, where public places with internet access like libraries and community centres are unable to function, the connectivity must move into the home, and it simply must become a priority for government to keep our country going.

The Covid-19 crisis has changed the way we live, the way we interact, the way we learn and the way we work. As evidence recently from the ONS proves, the crisis is hitting those in the most deprived areas the hardest.

Whilst focus is rightfully on public health, the change to the way we interact with each other and the way we access the services that we all need is going to be influential.

However the very ability to interact in the modern world is not one that is universal, and unless we fix the inequalities to access to connectivity as soon as possible, not only will we further cut off vulnerable people during this unprecedented period of isolation, but we will see the effects of our inaction years into the future.

It is very easy to assume that as services become more digital, they become more accessible, but there are still 1.9million households in the UK that are not connected to the internet, ranging from single inhabitants, to families with children and older, vulnerable people.

In the midst of a crisis in which much of the key, need-to-know information is online, widening connectivity and access to the digital landscape becomes increasingly important. 

This is especially true given the fact that around a quarter of those that were instructed to quarantine were contacted by letter because they do not have a smartphone or tablet.

There must be a concerted effort, with leadership from government, to expand the distribution of devices capable of connecting to the internet, alongside means of connecting.

There have been elements of work by the government to address this issue.

The education secretary announced a programme of providing devices and internet connections to disadvantaged pupils who have exams, but this leaves a notable gap in access.

Some households have been counted as having internet access that only have one device to share amongst each other.

For example, this would not be practical for children attempting to learn whilst their parents work from home and would be even more difficult for those who are connected on Pay As You Go contracts to the digital world. 41% of PAYG users are in the DE socio-economic group, which includes manual workers and pensioners, and we need to see more government action in support of their digital connectivity.

It is welcome that work is being undertaken to support those who may be approaching exam time given the effort already put in by students and teachers alike towards the assessments. However, there are simply too many connectivity gaps for government action to stop here.

There must be a concerted effort, with leadership from government, to expand the distribution of devices capable of connecting to the internet, alongside means of connecting.

There are already initiatives in place to enable this. Devices Dot Now, a campaign by Future Dot Now in collaboration with the Good Things Foundation, is readily quoted by the government as an organisation they are working with to achieve the distribution of devices.

However with no capital investment despite readiness from business to engage in a government supported program to achieve such aims, the initiative is in urgent need of centralised financial support for it to be fully effective.

The benefits are huge, from the increased connectivity of older and vulnerable people who would be able to communicate with others on their own terms, to closing the educational inequality gap that is widening every day that the crisis continues, as those with the means of learning digitally progress and those that do not have the means do not.

As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Digital Skills, we have heard of the difficulties faced by those that do not have access to digital connections or the skills required to use them, but only with action on the former can we progress on the latter.

In times of social distancing, where public places with internet access like libraries and community centres are unable to function, the connectivity must move into the home, and it simply must become a priority for Government to keep our country going.

Julie Elliott MP is Labout MP for Sunderland Central

Partner content
The Future of Health

What does the future of healthcare look like? Health professionals, experts and Parliamentarians scan the horizon and find cause for optimism

Find out more

Read more All
Coronavirus
Coronavirus
Coronavirus
Coronavirus