Digital inequality growing under lockdown, charity warns

Laptop online

A third of families being supported by Includem cannot afford monthly broadband fees.

26th May 2020 by Gavin Stuart 0 Comments

Some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged people are suffering from a lack of internet access during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a youth support charity.

A survey for Includem revealed that 20% of its service users did not have access to devices they needed to complete school work.

Meanwhile, a third of families being supported by the charity said they were unable to meet the ongoing costs of digital services such as broadband.

Includem is now calling for affordable broadband to be made available for everyone in a bid to combat digital exclusion and close the attainment gap.

“What we are finding is that not all our young people have access to this type of technology, resulting in an already disadvantaged group becoming potentially even more isolated,” said Martin Dorchester, Includem chief executive.

“The simple reason for this is cost - people do not have the money to pay for the devices they need or to pay for the contracts needed to run them, with 33% of the young people and families surveyed saying they did not feel they would be able to afford ongoing costs.”

Mr Dorchester also highlighted the impact of digital exclusion on people's ability to access national and local support systems, meaning those without broadband find it harder to get help in times of crisis.

He added: “At Includem we are using video calls to provide the emotional support families need and in high risk situations. If families don’t have access to this technology, they are limited in how they can access services and fully engage with schools.”

Since the beginning of lockdown, Includem has used over £17,000 of its Young Person’s Fund to provide young people and their families with the financial and material support they need to get through the pandemic, such as mobile phones, top-up cards, laptops and chargers. This has been supported by donations from the Corra Foundation and Foundation Scotland’s Community Response, Recovery, Resilience Fund. 

Mr Dorchester said: “It is likely that young people will be accessing most of their education remotely for some time. With the young people we support already adversely affected by the poverty related attainment gap this will only widen if they do not have access to devices and data which supports their remote learning.

“Digital exclusion is the result primarily of entrenched poverty. While we welcome the steps the Scottish Government is taking in providing equipment through initiatives like Connecting Scotland, we would call on them to also look to making broadband economically accessible for all. Having equipment without the means to use it properly is just another hindrance towards improving vulnerable young people’s lives for the better.”