An inquiry has been launched by the Lords Communications Committee to try to help the digitally excluded, as the UK’s cost-of-living crisis persists.
The committee will look at what causes digital exclusion, as well as the social and economic impact of people being unable to access or use digital devices and services.
It will also try to determine how the cost-of-living crisis will play into digital exclusion in the UK and possibly stand in the way of tackling the issue.
Tina Stowell, chair of the committee, said: “The ability and resources to operate effectively online are increasingly vital for everyone. Many aspects of life now operate exclusively online. Tackling the digital divide will be vital for delivering growth and economic prosperity. It is clear that for many people there are significant barriers to operating effectively online.
“These barriers can include a lack of confidence, a lack of digital skills, poor access to appropriate broadband and poverty preventing access to equipment or the internet,” she said. “The last of these is likely to be made worse by the current cost-of-living pressures.”
Digital is becoming an increasingly important part of day-to-day life, but many in the UK are still without either the basic digital skills needed for work and life, or a device to give them access to the internet.
In London alone, it’s estimated that 270,000 people have either no access to the internet or no digital access, and around two million may have a device but cannot get online or use online services, leaving many left behind in a world where some services are now exclusively digital.
Pointing out that Covid-19 already exacerbated the digital divide, the committee also wants to look into whether the rising cost of living will also affect digital exclusion, and whether being digitally excluded means people are greater impacted by the rising cost of living – the recent Lloyds’ consumer digital index found that 35% of people said the cost of living would make it harder for them to go online.
The committee will look into whether current government and industry efforts are helping to tackle the digital divide, what improvements could be made to make any interventions more effective, and whether there are any policy changes that could be made to improve digital exclusion over the next one to five years.
Many have already tried to tackle this issue. Last year, the Good Things Foundation and JP Morgan launched the Power Up campaign, offering a fund of £1.5m shared across 15 projects with the aim of improving digital skills across the UK to increase social inclusion.
The Communications Committee will also be looking into interventions such as those being made outside of government to support those who are digitally excluded, how these initiatives can be better supported, and what the right balance would be between government and wider society to increase the amount of digital inclusion in the UK.
Part of the investigation will also look into whether methods used to tackle digital exclusion in other countries could be helpful in the UK.
The Lords Communications Committee will be taking written contributions to its inquiry until 7 March 2023.