Rising costs and digital division

Our Director of Evidence and Engagement, Dr. Emma Stone, highlights 5 things you can do today to help eradicate data poverty and the digital poverty premium.

Last week – I presented at a Policy in Practice webinar on rising living costs, with nearly 300 people from housing associations, Citizens Advices, local authorities and charities. My role: to ensure people know how to get free data connectivity from our UK National Databank, and know where or how to get the most affordable tariffs. So I asked: ‘How confident are you about providing support to people around their broadband or mobile costs?’

  • Only 36% had some level of confidence to do this (29% felt confident; 7% felt very confident; the most confident were almost all from Citizens Advice bureaux).
  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) felt not at all confident (15%), not very confident (43%) or unsure (7%).

This isn’t surprising. First, broadband and mobile connectivity is a newer and complex market to navigate. I see a form of ‘poverty premium’ at work here – where people with lower incomes have to be more ‘data savvy’ than people on higher incomes to know what speed and packages will meet their needs, and make their data last.

Secondly, there’s low awareness, promotion and take-up of social tariffs for fixed broadband. Take-up of social tariffs is very low, with only an estimated1.2% of eligible customershaving taken up a social tariff so far. Ofcom is now consulting and calling on charities and consumer bodies to promote social tariffs. But promoting them isn’t easy: they are voluntary; they vary; and some affordable packages are not defined as ‘social tariffs’ even though they are comparable.

Thirdly, mobile data is essential for many and fixed broadband isn’t an option (or suitable) for everyone. Our UK National Databank offers free mobile data connectivity (vouchers and SIMs) – donated by Virgin Media O2, Vodafone and Three. We need help to get the word out to more charities and organisations with reach to people who could benefit. Importantly, we trust Databank partners to decide whether someone is eligible, so no proof of benefits is required.

On top of data poverty (not being able to afford enough connectivity), there’s the broader issue of digital exclusion and the online poverty premium. Not having the skills, confidence or support makes it harder for people to get financial help they are entitled to, find better deals, access online advice and guidance, and know whether to trust it. Tackling this has been core to our Nobody in the Dark partnership with CleanSlate, QuidsIn!, Mastercard and Lloyds Banking Group.

Rising living costs are deepened by digital inequalities. It is vital we work together to eradicate data poverty and the digital poverty premium – we really need your help.

Here are 5 things you could do today;

  1. Take the QuidsIn! Future Proof Finance quiz and share it on to others, encouraging them to check they’re getting the help they’re entitled to.
  2. Apply to join the UK National Databank. If you are already in our network of ‘online centres’ in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland – it is easy to apply. If you’re not in our network – join us! There are no membership fees, you can then join the UK National Databank, plus get free access to wider support.
  3. Email me if you are confident in supporting people around data poverty; we’re partnering People Know How to pull together a short guide on this.
  4. Respond to Ofcom’s consultation on social tariffs and the role of charities.
  5. Join the Cost of Living Alliance coalescing around these issues across sectors.

Together, we can Fix The Digital Divide – for good.

A profile photo of Emma smiling

Dr. Emma Stone

Director of Evidence and Engagement

Emma leads a team of specialist experts - skilled in service design, user research, evaluation, data insights, marketing, communications, external affairs and advocacy. A social researcher by training, Emma has straddled research, policy and practice for two decades. Before joining Good Things Foundation in 2018, Emma worked at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation where she led the Policy and Research department, overseeing programmes on poverty, place, housing, ageing, disability, race equality, and communities. Emma draws on her wider understanding of social, economic and health inequalities to inform Good Things Foundation’s strategy and delivery.

Emma is deeply committed to social justice and tackling inequality. She brings energy and enthusiasm to every partnership, and a strong belief that change is possible. Especially when solutions are co-designed with community partners and people with lived experience.