Digital poverty: how can we help all families master their online world?
One of the many consequences of lockdown in 2020 was the amplifying of the issue of digital poverty. As Britain went online for work, education and entertainment, a lack of digital access for many families came into sharper focus.
In our 2020 Left Behind In Lockdown report, 77% of parents told us that connected technology had helped their family get through restrictions. However, 85% of families in the top earnings bracket saw this benefit – compared to 71% for those in the lowest.
There have been many attempts to assess the scale of the issue over the past year. There remains, however, no agreed definition of ‘digital poverty’. It turns out to be more complicated than it looks.
We wanted to contribute to the discussions and bring parents into the conversation – so, in 2021, we commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct research on our behalf.
Our report reveals that while 99% of parents go online at least once a day, families in lower social grades are far less likely to have a home computer compared to families in the higher grades.
They are also far more likely to have entered into debt in order to pay for devices or internet access.
Access is important – but so is government support
At Parent Zone we believe that all children – which means their parents, too – should have opportunities to master the technologies of the future.
Ensuring that all children have access is an essential first step. In the 21st century, broadband should be a right, like access to water.
But our report concludes that digital poverty is unlikely to be overcome simply by handing out laptops or making infrastructure available and affordable.
Addressing digital poverty should be coordinated across government, and should be a vital part of the levelling-up agenda. A more coordinated approach should provide insights into the needs of specific groups – including ethnic minorities, refugees, looked-after children, and those with disabilities – to enable better tracking of progress.
Parents must be included in efforts to build online competence. Disadvantage, both between generations and between families, is likely to be reinforced if adults aren’t given the means and the confidence to help their children range freely online. When innovating solutions, parents and those with lived experience of digital disadvantage should be involved, along with policymakers, technologists and design thinkers.
Vicki Shotbolt, founder and CEO of Parent Zone, said: “This report clearly demonstrates that parents have embraced the importance of technology for their children’s future – with many going into debt to ensure their children could access education during lockdown.
“While access to devices and data remains important, it is also vital that parents are given the means and support to help their children explore the online world confidently and safely. Failure to engage parents – and particularly those who are digitally disadvantaged – in developing solutions to digital poverty will only reinforce existing disadvantage between families.
“The upcoming government Media Literacy Strategy presents an ideal opportunity to ensure all parents are given the chance to develop their skills and knowledge to ensure the next generation – whatever their background – can thrive online.”