Urgent call to fix the UK’s digital divide

With the release of the Autumn Statement, we're calling on the Government to urgently address the digital divide.

In response to the Autumn Statement, we at Good Things Foundation stress the urgency of addressing the deepening digital divide alongside economic downturn. The worsening conditions reported by the Bank of England in November – increased inflation and the looming threat of a recession – are not just alarming statistics but a reality that’s hitting the most vulnerable, the hardest. As of 2023 the situation has become dire, with millions facing destitution.

The rise of cost-of-living and the digital divide are inextricably linked. As communities across the country struggle with soaring prices, the lack of digital access and skills is worsening their situation. Without the means to connect, families find themselves increasingly disadvantaged, cut off from essential services, education, employment, and each other.

The latest data paints a depressing picture: 1 in 5 adults do not have foundation-level skills (Lloyds Bank, 2022) and 1 in 14 households do not have home internet access (Digital Nation, 2023). At the same time, millions are deprived of basic essentials and the situation is worsening. Financial pressure, coupled with digital exclusion, has produced the perfect storm of increasing inequality.

As we look to the 2023 Autumn Statement, it’s imperative that the Government tackle the digital divide and economic crisis together. Good Things Foundation economic impact report demonstrates that digital inclusion can be a cornerstone of economic growth (CEBR, 2022). The report illustrates that for every £1 invested in digital inclusion, there’s a staggering return of £9.48 to the economy – amounting to a net present value of £12.2 billion (CEBR, 2022). This isn’t just a theoretical gain; it’s a tangible impact that fosters productivity.

Inaction in this space will exacerbate socio-economic disparities. Communities experiencing digital exclusion face higher unemployment risks, limited access to cost-saving online services, and reduced educational and health outcomes. This not only affects individuals but also places a heavier burden on public services and the economy at large.

The time for action is now. Closing the digital divide is not just a matter of economic relief – it’s a vital step towards ensuring equality, opportunity, and resilience in a rapidly evolving digital world. 

To drive growth and opportunity, our Autumn Statement 2023 calls for:

Strategic Leadership:

Establish a clear, coordinated Digital Inclusion Strategy led by No. 10, involving multiple government departments. This strategy should address all aspects of digital inclusion, including data connectivity, device access, and basic digital skills support.

Co-investment in Social Infrastructure:

Co-funding from Government and businesses to develop local and national digital inclusion ‘social infrastructure’. Partnerships with civil society and industry leaders – like Good Things and our strategic partners Virgin Media O2, Vodafone, and Nominet – should be leveraged to support 1 million people and establish 5,000 Digital Inclusion Hubs. This approach promises not only societal benefits but also significant economic growth.

Donate Tech for Good:

Government should reuse tech for good and commit to donating their old and disused devices to our National Device Bank. Our initiative recycles devices from corporate partners and the public sector, professionally refurbishes them, and redistributes them to digitally excluded communities. This not only aids in reducing digital exclusion but also contributes to environmental sustainability by minimising e-waste.

Remove VAT on Broadband Social Tariffs:

Government should follow our call and lower VAT on broadband social tariffs from 20% to 0%, ensuring savings are passed on to end-users. This measure can also enhance public awareness and uptake of social tariffs.

Take up the Minimum Digital Living Standard:

The Government should establish this standard as a national benchmark for digital inclusion. Developed through public consultation and focus groups, the MDLS sets a ‘north star’ for a digitally inclusive future and defines what ‘good’ looks like in the digital age.


Read more

Check out our thoughts on the Government's response to the Lord's digital exclusion inquiry.