Digital is key to election, so must be digital poverty

Written by Elizabeth Anderson, CEO, Digital Poverty Alliance

After months, if not longer, of speculation, we now know – the General Election will be on 4th July.

Arguably, more than ever before, digital will be more important than ever as we await the result. Why? Social media, of course – with diverse views, but generally an echo chamber effect. Targeted messaging and advertising through different platforms. The role of data in gaining support. The spreading of news – and potentially fake news – online. In 2024, what’s an election without the debate and discussion that happens across digital platforms – whether that’s sharing your opinion on Facebook, following political commentary, or analysing data.

Unless you aren’t online.

If you aren’t online at all, you won’t be hit by the swirling news. In fact, you probably didn’t spend this afternoon receiving news alerts or debating with your team what the date would be, and arguably, you might not even know the election has been announced. Similarly, if you’ve run out of data or had to switch off your broadband due to rising costs.

And not only will you not know, but you won’t be sharing your views. With so many campaigns kicking off online these days, if you are digitally excluded, ironically, you’re not going to be able to spread the word about the need to tackle digital poverty. If you are one of the 11 million people who lack essential, basic digital skills, you may also be at greater risk of falling foul of related scams, of fake news – or purely struggling to register for new voter ID.

So, having established that digital plays a massive part in democracy these days, and given we already know that up to 19 million adults are in digital poverty, perhaps this tells us that tackling this exclusion – whether it’s through affordability, skills, or lack of trust or support – must be critical in the next governmental term, which will see us through all the way to 2029. So much has changed in the last five years, who can tell where we will be in the last year of the decade


This is why we have a simple manifesto call to all campaigning parties:

    1. Commit to creating a cross-departmental digital inclusion task force – across every department – with transparent accountability for real change and a joined-up focus.
  1. Take immediate action now, with meaningful communication campaigns that signpost support.

Why every department? Because digital touches every area of life. Education, health, welfare, jobs, rural services, housing – the list doesn’t end.

And why communications? Around two-thirds of people would improve their digital skills if there was free support. There is free support – but people can’t find it. Perhaps because they aren’t online, or perhaps because we want them to look in the places that society feels would be convenient, rather than taking the message to people.


How can I get involved?

Are you a candidate? Tell us if you support us. You can email me directly at [email protected]. Tell your party you support action on digital poverty and want to see this included in campaign literature. If you need information about your constituency, we can share that information with you. Want to know more about how to support?

As well as the asks above, we are seeking greater awareness, support for affordability, increased accessibility of services, a dedicated skills programme and device access in schools, and greater support for local authorities to tackle digital inclusion. If you want to know more, drop me an email.

Are you working with a candidate? Tell them what you’ve just read. Ask them to get involved.

Are you a member of the public? Canvassing season is just beginning. Ask something different on the doorstep – ask about digital poverty. Ask both what the party is doing, but also what the local candidate is doing – whether that’s for the one in five children nationally in digital poverty, or the one in two families on low incomes who are digitally excluded.

Are you a business, perhaps with public affairs goals that align? Join our Industry Forum and be part of the industry response to helping millions of people access the online world – and your services – conveniently, safely, and effectively.

We sometimes hear digital considered a luxury, that it comes after other forms of poverty. A keyboarded device (laptop or tablet) with a stable internet connection isn’t a luxury. Without it, children can’t complete homework. Parents can’t access job opportunities (90% of which are only advertised online, and need a digital application). People can’t apply for benefits, healthcare, or other support. There’s a poverty premium – from insurance to driving licences, you pay more if you’re offline or struggle with accessing online services.

So, if someone tells you a phone is enough, ask them – could they do GCSE coursework on a phone with a cracked screen? And if they say no, ask them what they are doing to help.

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