Data poverty can be solved – if we work together

Bringing industry, government, and civil society together is critical if we want to tackle this challenge, writes our Policy and Research Officer, Tom McGrath.

According to Ofcom, two million households in the UK struggle to afford internet access. This is an issue which reaches all parts of the country – affecting job prospects, access to education, and exacerbating health inequalities. And this isn’t an issue that the market alone can solve. We need collaboration within and across sectors – government, industry, civil society and communities – to reach and support everyone in need.

The Data Poverty Lab is our way of achieving this. Alongside the Data Poverty APPG, we recently brought together a coalition of industry leaders, government departments, and people with lived experience of data poverty. Each participant had something unique to offer, helping us to understand what is needed to end data poverty.

Roundtables like this are so valuable because people’s circumstances vary. We need to hear from a wide range of voices to understand what can work. What was clear from the discussion is that there will not be ‘one solution’ to data poverty – because the best solution for someone in Hull may not be appropriate at all for someone in Hartlepool. 

We need to see a strong commitment from the Government that they will develop a sustainable strategy to tackle data poverty.

What we will need is a number of complementary approaches to build an effective, sustainable ‘digital safety net’. This will mean a mix of ‘free’ and affordable solutions, mobile and fixed line, contract and non-contract.

The solutions will need to meet a number of criteria to be judged effective, such as affordability, flexibility, privacy, and accessibility. We’re calling these the ‘good dimensions’ of data poverty solutions and are working to expand these criteria further.

The National Databank is just one part of this ‘digital safety net,’ and we’re delighted to have launched it with Virgin Media O2. We encouraged the telecoms companies who attended to add their solutions to the National Databank, ensuring it can support as many people as possible.. 

But there’s still a lot of work to be done. Without collaboration from other providers, the National Databank will not reach its full potential. Meanwhile, we need to see a strong commitment from the Government that they will develop a sustainable strategy to tackle data poverty as part of a National Plan for digital inclusion. And of course, we know the National Databank won’t suit everyone’s needs – so we need to explore what other solutions may work.

Through the Data Poverty Lab, we’ll continue to explore these other solutions to data poverty to understand what works locally and nationally, with the aim of ending data poverty by 2024. By working with industry partners, we’ll keep pushing the Government to announce a data poverty strategy. And through our advocacy efforts, we’ll aim to secure more providers for the National Databank, helping to build a platform that reaches everyone.

The challenges of data poverty are significant. But the struggles of those two million people are even more difficult. We know this is an issue we can solve – we just need to work together.

Tom McGrath

Policy and Research Officer

Tom coordinates our Data Poverty Lab and fellowship scheme, helping to design more affordable solutions for the internet. He supports our advocacy by writing consultation responses and working closely with parliamentarians to fix the digital divide for good. Tom also monitors external statistical releases and designs qualitative research projects.