A new report assesses progress on data poverty over the last twelve months.
The report – which was published by a group of MPs and Members of the House of Lords – found that while industry and the third sector had taken significant steps to tackle the problem, “a lack of sustained engagement from government” had limited progress.
The report was published by the cross-party Data Poverty All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in September and follows on from its 2022 assessment.
It marks the rate of change against nine key recommendations, from ‘creating an assumed right to data’ to ‘making early termination free and simple’.
The report found a rise in understanding of ‘data poverty’. However, it also found that “the legislative and funding systems in place around data poverty are insufficient and remain fundamentally unchanged from at least before the publication of last year’s State of the Nation Report.”
Its findings are based on the sessions held by the APPG over the last 12 months, focusing on the impacts of data poverty in sectors including healthcare, education, financial services and the labour market, as well as its roundtable on the cost-of-living crisis.
How is Data Poverty defined?
“Anyone who is unable to get online, or unable to be online long enough to meet their needs, is in data poverty.”
Causes of data poverty in 2023
The report found that affordability remained the primary cause of data poverty. The worsening cost-of-living crisis has significantly exacerbated the issue, it said.
One million households have cancelled or downgraded their internet packages over the last year, according to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Ofcom’s figure of 1.5 million UK households lacking internet access last year has risen to as high as 3 million as of August 2023, according to research by the Centre for Social Justice.
Other underlying causes were also noted, from low digital literacy and a lack of access to devices to disparities in digital infrastructure and coverage.
This section of the report includes other useful statistics on the scale and impact of data poverty.
Progress by industry and third sector
The report celebrates “some significant achievements” by industry and third sector organisations. In particular, it noted “the transformative effects” of collaboration between the two groups.
It highlights case studies for a number of leading organisations, such as Good Things Foundation, which have provided 4,500 devices to Digital Inclusion Hubs, and BT, which are building awareness of and research on the benefits of social tariffs.
It also found that significant progress had also been made on building awareness of the issue.
“Public service providers are increasingly recognising that equitable online access must go alongside increased digitisation,” it stated.
“Internet service providers are continuing to expand their social tariff offers, supported by the Department for Work and Pensions allowing internet service providers to verify – with customers’ permission – whether they are in receipt of the necessary benefits and therefore eligible for additional financial support.”
Lack of action by government
However, the report criticised the government’s lack of response to the problem. “The Government’s approach to digital exclusion currently lacks an up-to-date strategy and largely relies on shifting the problem onto the industry’s shoulders,” it found.
“A consistent message from industry and third sector stakeholders when engaging with the APPG has been a frustration at a lack of sustained engagement from government,” it said.
The group also noted that calls for a centralised government response to data and digital poverty had been echoed by the House of Lords’ Digital and Communications Committee, following the publication of its Digital Exclusion and the Cost of Living report in June.
The report updated its recommendations for government based on changes from last year’s report.
- Make addressing data and digital poverty a core task of the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.
- Create a Digital and Social inclusion Fund.
- Develop a national digital inclusion forum with Ofcom.
- Create a ‘one-stop shop’ digital inclusion support service for consumers, charities, and government agencies.
- Easier access to social tariffs and data voucher schemes for those on eligible benefits.
- Increased provision of internet connectivity in public spaces.
- A digital ‘right-of-way’ to public services and other essential services provided through the private sector.
- Expand the number of zero-rated websites