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Digital Inclusivity

Volume 695: debated on Thursday 20 May 2021

Our 10 tech priorities include building a tech-savvy nation so that no one is left behind in the digital revolution. Adults can, free of charge, undertake qualifications designed to build digital skills up to level 1, and the Government are encouraging broadband providers to roll out low-cost-broadband social tariffs for lower-income households.

Recently published Office for National Statistics data showed that in the first quarter of 2020, some 22% of people in Luton who were over 16 had not used the internet for three months—that is more than double the national average. Many of my constituents were severely disadvantaged at the start of the pandemic, particularly as work, school and social lives moved online. To support my constituents—who had to choose between data and dinner—I would like specific information about whether the affordability of access to broadband and online services will be adequate.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the fact that the pandemic has demonstrated how digital inclusion and accessibility have been fundamental to our ability to learn, work and meet our friends. Social tariffs are already available that offer low-cost landline and broadband services for those on certain means-tested benefits. However, the Government are now encouraging all fixed-broadband providers to introduce a social tariff.

The Minister says that no one should be left behind, but 60% of over-50s with household earnings under £20,000 per year are not online; more than half of adults who are not online are disabled; 2 million households in the UK have been without internet access during lockdown; and there are up to 900,000 children without devices. Yet the Government’s digital inclusion strategy was last updated in 2014 and there is still no target for inclusion. Why will the Minister not tell us what proportion of the population she is happy to leave behind in this digital age?

I feel that that is a massive under-representation of the huge amount of work that has happened over the past year. The Government agreed a set of commitments with the UK’s major broadband and mobile operators to support vulnerable customers during the covid-19 period. A whole heap of extra laptops—1.3 million of them, on top of the 2.9 million that were already in schools—have been rolled out to young people. In February, to tackle the disproportionate impact of covid-19 on disabled people, the Department launched a £2.5 million digital lifeline fund to support 5,000 people with learning disabilities to access devices, connectivity and digital skills support.