‘The New Normal’ – a statement many of us will now relate to Zoom calls instead of team meetings, FaceTime instead of family gatherings and phone calls instead of a drink in the pub with friends.
Since the Coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown, it has turned our worlds upside down, with many people being utterly grateful for their access to technology, using it as a lifeline to connect to the outside world.
However, for those living within the constraints of poverty, sadly this lifeline may not be there. Technology is still seen as a luxury item and choosing between putting food on the table for your children or a laptop, you know which will come out on top.
In the world we live in now, technology and digital connectivity is by no means a luxury but a necessity. Lloyds Bank consumer digital index 2020 report
found that for people with high digital engagement, there are significant lifestyle and well-being benefits.
87% say it helps them to connect better with friends and family, 84% say it helps them to organise their life, 55% say it makes them feel more part of a community and 44% say it helps them to manage physical and mental well-being. Why should those living in poverty miss out on getting these benefits?
They also found that 1/3 adults in the UK have the lowest level of digital engagement, which means 16.9 million people are missing out on all the benefits stated above.
11.7 million people at the wrong end of the digital divide are also more likely to be paying higher household bills irrespective of income, household, or age. For utilities alone, many are spending an average of over £348 more per year. This digital divide is contributing to the numbers being drawn into poverty, estimated at 22% of the UK population by recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
(https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2019-20 JRF, UK Poverty Report 2019-20).
Worryingly, this research pre-dates the coronavirus outbreak, and anecdotal evidence suggests the crisis will have widened the gap still further.
What can be done to help close this gap? During these difficult times and getting used to ‘the new normal’, the answer is not an easy one. There are 3 factors we need to take into consideration when looking at this – ‘kit’ such as laptops & phones, connectivity – affordable Wi-Fi in communities, and most importantly people – ensuring that the people who need to access online resources are getting the support they need to learn how to become more digitally engaged.
The first two factors can be solved through funding and financing from charities and organisations, but the people factor is a lot more challenging. Traditionally it would be a case of sitting with someone and showing them how to use their device. However, social distancing regulations will not allow us to do that.
How can we teach someone something remotely when they don’t have the digital experience of using the likes of Zoom etc? And of course, if they were that tech savvy, they wouldn’t need the support in the first place.
This is the question Hartlepool Action Lab, Good Things Foundation & APLE Collective together are trying to answer, to help lessen the digital divide.
Emma Stone, Director of Design, Research & Communications of Good Things Foundation said, ‘Coronavirus has exposed a digital divide with a direct link to poverty. Everyone should have the kit, connectivity, skills and support to benefit from digital – including to get support with money, debt and benefits. We’ve got an opportunity now to bridge the digital financial divide, and build something better with Hartlepool Action Lab, APLE Collective and our other brilliant partners.’
Some suggestions of how to teach someone remotely are using tailored ‘how to’ guides created by our organisations which could be given along with technology. However we fully appreciate this isn’t the ideal solution and further ideas and plans are being put into the mix to ensure that we are able to bridge that gap, in the most beneficial way possible.
We will continue to develop solutions which are as complex and far-reaching as these issues we are facing. Through collaboration and sharing knowledge we have the chance to make ‘the new normal’, a one which is inclusive to all. Hartlepool Action Lab is built on strong relationships and collaboration between sectors, organisations and people. If you share our passion for social justice, you can contact us at