Digital inclusion in the spotlight

As more and more services move online, digital inclusion is a problem that is likely to become more pronounced for a significant section of the UK population. That’s because while the majority of Britain takes the internet for granted, there are still 11 million people lacking basic online skills.

According to Ofcom, if you are elderly, a low-earner, unemployed or live in social housing, you are less likely to be able to access the internet from your home or have the digital skills to take advantage of being online.

Thankfully, this issue has been given oxygen by ITV’s Tonight programme, who visited a project that we have been involved in with Leeds City Council to combat digital exclusion by connecting two of the city’s tower blocks to free broadband.

The partnership is part of the council’s 100% Digital Leeds programme aimed at giving every resident the access and skills to make the most out of the internet.

Leeds City Council estimates 38% of its 57,000 social housing residences don’t have permanent access to the internet. As part of the 14 month trial, we connected 160 social housing residences to free wireless broadband. It is streamed to the Grayson Crest and Clyde Grange tower blocks via radio antenna and offers 5 Mbps broadband residents to log on whenever they want.

It resulted in some absolutely brilliant feedback.

Grayson Crest resident Oliver had been searching for a job for three years without an internet connection. Four days after he was connected to 6G internet, he secured a job he found on Gumtree as a warehouse forklift driver.

He told us: “It’s the difference between being on £46 a week benefit and earning a good wage. £46 just goes in a day – I couldn’t do anything with my kids. Now I can take them swimming or to the seaside. I’ve started saving money for a better car and I can meet my friends without worrying about money.

“Without an internet connection I was searching for a job by buying newspapers or going to the library. After three years it gets disheartening – you just give up. Phone credit wasn’t cheap – if you want unlimited internet you’re talking £30 a month, so it was even difficult being able to talk to friends on social media. Now I can use my laptop at home. It’s made a big difference.”

Our partner at Leeds City Council, tenant engagement manager Ian Montgomery, said: “We know people suffer from a lower quality of life as a result of being unable to access the social, educational, financial, recreational and health benefits of being online.

“By connecting these flats to the internet and supporting people to learn how to use the technology, we are helping residents to find improved deals and save money, apply for jobs, manage finances and maintain contact with family and friends. It also helps the council to be more efficient, as residents are able to access online services to claim benefits, report issues and make payments.”

We are very proud of our work to connect more people to a better quality of life through free broadband. If you’re part of a local authority and interested in partnering with us, you can make an enquiry here.