In this digital age, access to technology and broadband is not a luxury but a requirement for:
- Learning & Skills development
- Accessing many government and commercial services
The LF estimates that there are more than a million children in households with inadequate access to a devices and/or the internet.
The percentage of children in absolute low income BHC (Before Housing Costs) in 2013/14 was stable at 19% and slightly higher than the 2010/11 level. The latest figures BHC show 2.3 million children in relative low income, whilst there were 2.6 million under the absolute low income measure.
The impact on the children and their families is considerable:
- Impedes learning – especially when schools are increasingly expecting students to access the internet for their studies
- Delays development of key skills and digital literacy throughout entire family
- Hinders interaction with others and social wellbeing
- Impacts on the UK’s position relative to the rest of the world
If we want to transform the lives of those who are most disadvantaged in a world which is now digital – we have to make sure to target them and their families at home as well as in schools. Schools will move to more embedded use across curriculum of technology on a 1:1 basis over the next 10 years but this will still mean that half a generation of children will miss the benefits that technology enabled learning and digital literacy can offer them now.
It is increasingly urgent and critical that these families have access to a device and, where, possible home broadband too. It is time to establish the 100% Club or Internet for Everyone where people are equipped, enabled, engaged and protected.
The costs could, we believe, be borne, in total or mostly by many of those who need it most. What they lack is affordable solutions, the confidence to move forward, the knowledge to make the right decisions and the support that a new undertaking for them and their families would require. This has to be provided in a fashion that is affordable in the short and long term, represents sufficient quality and is well supported technically and with usage advice.
What is called for is a programme much like Home Access in terms of the objectives and projected outcomes. But with one key difference - that people pay for the devices themselves.
The programme would offer a small number of simple and affordable packages:
- Device - Tablet or Laptop only (new or refurbished)
- Device with or without broadband
Government would be approached to provide support, leadership and, possibly, to fund subsidies for the very poorest or provide wider subsidies. This would be at Secretary of State level as closing the digital divide crosses many departments and fits with a number of current government mantras around digital connection and access, skills, social mobility, JAMs – perhaps via Karen Bradley and Matt Hancock @DCMS
Exploratory with break point and follow up 6-9 months
It is important that this exploratory phase is relevant and beneficial in its own right and of value as a report. This phase would be driven by the TaskForce co-chaired by Lord Knight and Baroness Harding. The main purpose of which would be to discuss, research, agree and deliver a report to link with the Digital Economy Act. Key considerations include route to market; costs; distribution; product and payment methods and management.
It is envisaged that a Trustee of the Foundation would sit on the TaskForce in their own right and also as a representative of the Foundation.
The TaskForce would be provided with funding to conduct its work though sponsorship/payment by 5-10 companies of £8,000-£10,000 each. It is envisaged that this money would be managed and largely spent through the Foundation.
This phase would be characterised by the testing and refinement of options, processes and piloting delivery. Recognising also that what happens has to work. Further work on core and peripheral participants. Piloting in, possibly, the Opportunity Areas and linked with other initiatives such as connected cities, Digital apprenticeships etc. The Foundation’s role would continue as before and include active participation in piloting.
Mechanisms for funding support for the Foundation would be pursued with all participants. Schools in Pilot Areas would be approached for current LF activities.