A digital future must guarantee essentials: an interview with Emma Revie

Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust, Emma Revie, sat down with our Group CEO Helen Milner OBE to share her thoughts on poverty and digital exclusion, and why the Government needs to urgently tackle the barriers to opportunity.

Digital is an essential need: a recap on Digital Futures For Good episode 3

The conversation between Emma Revie and Helen Milner was part of our newly launched conversation series, Digital Futures for Good, exploring the solutions to fix the digital divide. In our third episode, supported by our strategic partner, Vodafone, Helen and Emma discussed the worsening problem of social security and inadequate support. Emma shared:

“People are coming to us and saying that through being unable to access the internet, they’re also missing out on getting better deals, being able to find out information about additional support that might be available, like local crisis support. And our data shows us that people without internet access have received less crisis support …. this is just terrible, compounding on top of the fact that people are facing financial hardship, is it compounds isolation and social exclusion.”

Emma Revie refers to a serious misconception about digital inclusion. People overlook the importance of having internet access. It isn’t just about missing out on entertainment or social media. It has real, tangible impacts on people’s lives, worsening financial hardship and deepening social isolation. Being locked out of online resources means missing out on vital lifelines and essential services, further deepening poverty.

“So, we know that almost half of the people who access our services [and do not] have access to the internet have not had contact more than once a month in some cases not at all, with friends, family, and neighbours. [This is] much higher than for people who do have access to the internet… it’s just layers of hardship that make it really difficult for people to keep going”

Adding to this discussion, we were delighted to invite Nicola Wallace Dean, Chief Operating Officer of Digital Inclusion Hub, Starting Point, and Rachel Evans, Sustainability Manager at Vodafone to the launch of our episode.

Nicola pointed out that in the case of food banks and data banks, the role of volunteers is vital. They are the driving force behind all our work and deliver that care and compassion that is often more important than perceived ‘skill’ or ‘technical ability’. She echoed Emma’s point about social isolation, adding that people — more than anything else — are seeking contact and physical spaces to find support.

Nicola stated that support required for people is more than financial aid, it’s about dignity, meeting people where they are, and providing a quality standard of living and social development. The panel and interviewees agreed that social security is not even covering the essentials. 

Emma said:

‘In 2022, there were 3.2 million people who experienced destitution, the very deepest form of poverty. That’s two and a half times more than the number of people experiencing it in 2017. That’s a huge increase in the depth and severity of poverty that people are living with. And that means that people simply aren’t able to afford the essentials.’

This issue is growing and demands attention. The depth and severity of poverty is increasing. It’s not right that people should have to rely on an insufficient food parcel to provide for all their needs. People are forced to make terrible trade-offs between food and the internet, which often prevents them from accessing universal credit.

Who’s responsible for tackling digital exclusion?

‘The short answer: everyone’, says Rachel. ‘[We are] worried that social security is not a safety net. Ensuring that people have absolute basic income is what will actually fix this for good. Instead of it being a sticking plaster.’

Both Rachel and Nichoa touched upon the importance of partnerships and working together, across and within business and civil society. Not as a substitute for government, but as a supportive mechanism. As Rachel says, we must ensure that ‘things are being done with vulnerable people and not to them’. Cross-sector working can provide that compassionate support which is necessary to fix the poverty crisis and digital exclusion – for good.

Catch up on demand

You can watch the launch event with Helen, Nicola and Rachel’s commentary here, as well as view the full interview with Emma Revie below.

Digital Futures for Good: Have your say

We will be hosting multiple conversations throughout the year – giving you the chance to feed into the conversation about how best we can fix the digital divide – together. If you have any thoughts or comments on any of our episodes so far, why not get in touch with us? Your feedback may be included in our report, wrapping up the series at the end of the year, or we may ask our up-coming guests your burning questions.