The Minimum Digital Living Standard for Households with Children has launched

For the first time, we have a benchmark defined by the public about what families think is enough to feel included in our digital society. It tells us what families need to know, do, and be able to afford. Emma Stone explores the groundbreaking new findings.

What is the Minimum Digital Living Standard?

The Minimum Digital Living Standard (MDLS) is a new benchmark for digital inclusion at a household level.

The final report brings together the Minimum Digital Living Standard definition and contents; research into family needs and barriers to meeting MDLS; analysis of an in-person doorstep survey of over 1,500 households with children across the UK to find out how many families meet the standard; and mapbooks showing what this looks like by local authority area. 

A minimum digital standard of living includes, but is more than, having:

  • accessible internet
  • adequate equipment
  • and the skills, knowledge and support people need.

It is about being able to communicate, connect and engage with opportunities safely and with confidence.

MDLS is taking households with children as the starting point. It is bottom-up; defined by members of the public. It is holistic; covering functional skills and critical skills and digital goods and services. A household needs all, in combination, to meet the benchmark. It is a starting point; extra or different ways to meet MDLS may be needed in some households (e.g. related to disability). It is evidence based; developed through a collaboration led by the University of Liverpool, Loughborough University, Good Things Foundation, and others, with funding from the Nuffield Foundation, Nominet, and Welsh Government.

Key research findings

The research findings are clear: 

  • Digital access is essential for family life 
  • Poverty is a barrier to meeting the MDLS
  • Over 4 in 10 households with children are below the MDLS (3.7m households)
  • Digital safety is a big issue for parents and young people, yet 1 in 4 families don’t have parents with the skills to understand and manage digital risk.

Government, businesses and service providers are driving ahead with digital transformation assuming that families are equally able to engage online. Today’s research shows this is not true. 

“Realistically, I choose paying for the internet over feeding myself because the need is so massive for my children” – Parent

No family should have to go without other essentials to meet their basic digital needs, or feel in the dark about staying safe online.

What we’re doing to fix it

Dr Emma Stone, co-investigator in the Minimum Digital Living Standard project and Director of Evidence and Engagement at Good Things Foundation says:

For the first time, we have a benchmark – defined by the public – about what families think is ‘enough’ to feel included in our digital society today. It tells us what families need to know, do, and be able to afford.

The fact that over 4 in 10 households are below the MDLS has profound implications for families and society. Politicians need to heed this and act. 

This is about poverty and opportunity. It is about fixing the digital divide.’

As members of the MDLS team, we’re calling on the Government to:

  • make digital inclusion a cross-cutting government priority for families
  • help more families to afford suitable connectivity and devices
  • review and resource the role of schools in digital inclusion, and community-based support for parents and other adults
  • work with us at Good Things Foundation to strengthen the National Digital Inclusion Network in areas with high levels of families below the MDLS

Digital inclusion isn’t only a job for government. Any organisation can use the Minimum Digital Living Standard research and mapbooks to:

  • Learn what families need to feel digitally included
  • Identify barriers faced by specific groups 
  • Consider where to target support 
  • Inform data collection in other surveys
  • Support digital inclusion collaboration
  • Consider how to design better online services
  • Advocate for support for digitally excluded families

Explore the links below to get involved or learn more.

MDLS takeaways Explore the key takeaways, recommendations, and ideas in this short summary.

MDLS publications Including final report, executive summary, mapbooks, and MDLS-Wales research:

Join the National Digital Inclusion Network If your organisation supports people who face digital barriers, you can join and access free digital inclusion services.

Get in touch Contact the MDLS team to present at an event or for support on using the MDLS: