Associate feature: Digital is now a lifeline for all, so why are some still missing out?
It is no surprise that so many of us now take digital technology for granted.
Many people will have access to a computer and the internet during their working day.
And who do you know who doesn’t have access to a ‘mini-computer’ in the form of a smartphone in their pocket, bag or by their bedside?
But for some, digital access is not a given. And I don’t mean self-confessed luddites or our grandparents who ‘can’t be bothered with it’, where people have exercised a choice.
For young people with experience of care, the cost of a contract or data can be prohibitive, their connection to free Wi-Fi has disappeared during COVID and having the confidence to go from knowing how to message your friends on an app to navigating your whole school, college or university syllabus online is a whole new challenge.
In 2020, it’s hard not to see digital as a daily utility.
We need it to access financial services; get the latest health information; advance our education, employment, or occupational prospects; connect with friends, family, and entertainment; and through digital, we’re never too far from welfare or wellbeing support, wherever we are.
The last six months have exposed how crucial digital is. For those facing more social isolation, it’s a lifeline.
In fact, household internet is one of the items listed in the UK’s Cost of Living Index, with the ONS suggesting that on average £900 is spent on phone and broadband a year in the average household costs estimates for the UK.
COVID-19 has further deepened the impact of digital exclusion for Scotland’s care leavers.
With lockdown restrictions requiring more access online, any digital connection denied through lack of IT kit, broadband or Wi-Fi, or digital literacy, has risked our young people being even more isolated, affecting their health and wellbeing and potentially preventing their right to services and participation.
As student Chris Marshall told us: “It goes a lot further than just staying connected: if I was unable to get any type of laptop or technology, I would be unable to go to college due to COVID-19 lockdown.
“Colleges have a blended learning module. For me this means two weeks at college and two weeks home learning and if I didn’t have Wi-Fi and a laptop, I wouldn’t be able to take part in the home learning.
“This means I would potentially fail my course due to falling behind.”
I welcome the extension of the Connecting Scotland programme. As we found in ‘Bridging the digital divide for care experienced young people in Scotland’: If not now, when?
Local authorities have responded to needs during this time and the impact on the health, wellbeing and rights of care leavers, but there needs to be national, ongoing support.
This ‘digital divide’ existed before COVID and we risk it continuing longer-term.
Many of the solutions to improving digital inclusion have already been identified.
What is required is a co-ordinated and concerted activity at national and local levels to implement these.
Scotland’s corporate parents need to apply the ‘assumption of entitlement’ principle to the provision of hardware, freely available connectivity and provide support for digital literacy so that all our care-experienced young people can have the competence and confidence to be fully included.
Taking digital access for granted is unacceptable.
As we face more uncertainty, we must ensure everyone has the right to connect, not just during the pandemic, but well into the future.
Claire Burns is the acting director of CELCIS.
This article was sponsored by CELCIS.