UK charity DPA challenges government to tackle “digital poverty”
The Digital Poverty Alliance has issued a warning that the cost of online connectivity and devices is leading to ‘digital poverty’ in the UK, calling on the government to implement new measures to address it.
The UK’s record cost of living increase is leaving many unable to pay for the internet access they need to find work, claim benefits, or access health care, according to the charity.
In a survey taken from a phone poll of 500 people in the UK living on gross household incomes of £25,000 or less, the DPA found that one in five never use the internet. UK families claiming welfare payments (Universal Credit) could now expect to spend 8.3% of their income on broadband, it said.
A range of initiatives have been launched in attempt to alleviate the burden on those who cannot afford sufficient mobile and broadband, such as the Data Poverty All-Party Parliamentary Group, the Digital Poverty Alliance, and the Good Things Foundation’s Data Poverty Lab. However the DPA said it is clear that more needs to be done.
Nearly one third of people with disabilities – and nearly a half of those aged 65 or over – never use the internet, and around one in five mobile phone users regularly run out of data before the end of the month.
The DPA says that lower-income adults are falling into the digital poverty trap with 9% reducing spending on food or clothes to afford phone or home internet, and 31% rationing mobile internet use to avoid running out of data.
The survey also shows digital poverty in the world of digitally skilled workers in the UK, and projects that the uneven ratio between digital skills-required job vacancies and workers able to fill those roles could threaten the growth of the industry and wider economy.
In 2021, job vacancies surged to more than two million, but industry figures underlined that almost 12 million British workers lack the essential digital skills needed to fill them.
The DPA pointed to a lack of digital education in schools as a root causing for this gap, as well as the government’s failure to understand that accessing digital services is a basic right.
Earlier this year, the then chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak made headlines as he took wraps off the UK’s new Digital Strategy at London Tech Week. Alongside digital minister Nadine Dorries, he said that the new measures will keep the UK tech sector “fit for the future”, including a new expert council to tackle the digital skills gap, which is currently estimated to cost the UK as much as £63 billion.
“If we can back our capital, people, and ideas. If we encourage that incredible spirit I see everywhere in this country, then we can be confident that Britain stands on the cusp of a new era of innovation and change,” said Sunak. Time will tell if the government’s strategy will do enough to cure or at least reduce digital poverty.
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