Tackling data poverty in Leeds

In September 100% Digital Leeds is hosting two free events sharing the city’s approach to tackling digital poverty, as part of Leeds Digital Festival. Attendees will be able to find out more about our approach to gifting data, and how they can support people to access free data.

Data poverty means being unable to afford a safe, secure internet connection. Many people on low incomes can’t afford wifi and are unable to secure a mobile phone contract. This leaves them reliant on ‘pay as you go’ 4G data, which is the most expensive and unreliable way to get online. As the cost of living crisis continues to impact household budgets, more and more people in Leeds are finding they have to ration data to keep costs down or can’t afford data at all. According to a recent report by the Centre for Social Justice, 42% of those on low incomes without access to the internet at home are of working age. Alongside lack of connectivity, people experiencing digital exclusion often do not have a suitable digital device and lack the digital skills and confidence to make the most of the internet.

100% Digital Leeds has supported our network of hundreds of partner organisations delivering digital inclusion support across the city to provide thousands of people with free connectivity via schemes such as Good Things Foundation’s National Databank, Vodafone’s Charities Connected, and Hubbub’s Community Calling.

“Thank you so much for the data. It’s meant I’ve been able to call the perinatal mental health team and arrange a different appointment for my anxiety and depression. With four children, all of us in a one-bed flat, being able to keep in touch with people makes such a difference to me.”

Parent supported by a Family Support Worker

The scale of data poverty

In a cost of living crisis, paying for the internet is an expense many people are unable to justify. According to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, across the UK, an estimated 1 million people have cut back or cancelled internet packages in the past year due to affordability issues. A recent report by the House of Lords said 1.7 million UK households had no access to broadband or mobile data in 2021. People on Universal Credit are more than six times as likely to have disconnected compared to people not claiming Universal Credit. As well as those on low incomes, people living without secure housing or with a poor credit rating are especially likely to experience digital poverty.

Whilst there are no accurate figures to ascertain the number of people experiencing data poverty in Leeds it is fair to assume that a high percentage of people living in poverty or on a low income will be unable to afford connectivity.

According to the Leeds Poverty Fact Book:

  • In October 2022 there were 72,701 Universal Credit claimants in Leeds, 43,819 of whom were not in work.
  • In 2023 there are 105,554 people living in absolute poverty before household costs.
  • 41,703 people accessed a foodbank in 2021/22 and 65,829 food parcels were given out informally via other emergency food provisions.
  • In 2021, before the most recent cost of living crisis, 55,274 household in Leeds experienced fuel poverty.

Digital exclusion makes it harder for people to manage their finances and keep costs down. Those unable to get online can’t use price comparison sites to find the best deals, can’t benefit from the discount that often comes with buying goods and services online, and can’t use online banking and budgeting tools to manage their money.

“Nearly seven million people in Great Britain are paying multiple poverty premiums and this costs them nearly £500 extra a year for essential goods and services, including food, insurance, and credit. Digital exclusion is likely to increase the costs consumers pay as goods can be more expensive offline. Without internet access, consumers can pay as much as 25% more on essential goods and services.”

Left Out: How to tackle digital exclusion and reduce the poverty premium.

The worst-off financially are also more likely to be multiply disadvantaged due to disability, immigration status, physical and mental health issues, having caring responsibilities or being socially isolated. In an increasingly online world, digital poverty limits people’s ability to access housing, employment, health services, training and education, and stay connected with friends and family.

Taking a community-based approach to data gifting

100% Digital Leeds works with hundreds of partners across the city working with and within communities most likely to be experiencing digital exclusion. We work with those partners across many different settings – third sector, public sector, health and care – to strengthen the digital inclusion infrastructure in communities to increase digital access, engagement and participation. This means digital inclusion support is embedded within the services that are already used and trusted by the people in our city experiencing data poverty.

As well as offering support with digital skills and confidence, and access to equipment, many of our partners gift SIM cards providing free data, calls, and texts, to those who need it most. Coupling SIM gifting with digital skills support and the loan of equipment means that recipients are supported to make the most of the data. Beneficiaries are identified via services people on low incomes are likely to use such as food banks, welfare support, and employability services. Partners gifting SIMs include Community Centres, Libraries, Children’s Centres, GP surgeries, and banks.

“Giving out data has been a massive success for us, not only being able to give something to families that struggle on a daily basis with the cost of living but enabling them to make regular contact with services. We are keen to empower families and this really helps. Something so small really can make a difference to someone’s life.”

Elkie Jones, Family Outreach Worker

Learn more about the Leeds approach to data gifting

In September, 100% Digital Leeds is hosting two events focussed on data gifting as part of Leeds Digital Festival. Attendees will be able to find out more about our approach to gifting data, and how they can support people to access free data.

Tackling data poverty in Leeds: a community-based approach to gifting SIMs

Monday 18 September 2023, 1-2pm, on Zoom. Book your free ticket via Eventbrite.

This webinar will highlight our cross-sector strategic approach to data-gifting, and how this enables people struggling to afford connectivity to access the digital tools and services they need to support their health, employability, and social inclusion. We will share how the use of the National Databank supports the implementation of the city’s Digital Strategy.

Speakers will include:

  • 100% Digital Leeds discussing the importance of connectivity as a foundation of Leeds Digital Strategy and outlining the work they are doing to combat digital exclusion and data poverty.
  • Good Things Foundation discussing the National Databank.
  • Leeds Libraries sharing their experience of implementing SIM gifting as part of libraries’ digital inclusion offer and the positive outcomes that have come about as a result.
  • Positive Action For Refugees and Asylum Seekers (Pafras) talking about their experience with data gifting and the impact this has on the people who access their services.
  • Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust discussing how SIM gifting via the National Databank has enabled the 0-19 Public Health Integrated Nursing Service to support parents experiencing data poverty to engage with Baby Bubble Leeds.
  • Virgin Money explaining how, as the first bank in the UK to sign up to the National Databank, they became involved with SIM gifting and how that fits in with their corporate strategy.

Making the National Databank work for you: supporting effective SIM gifting

Thursday 28 September, 2-3pm at Leeds Central Library. Book your free ticket via Eventbrite.

This event at Leeds Central Library is aimed at partner organisations that are already part of the National Databank and looking for practical ways to improve their SIM gifting offer, those interested in joining the National Databank and looking for support, or those wanting to know more about SIM gifting in Leeds so they can signpost to existing support.

Speakers include:

  • 100% Digital Leeds outlining Leeds’s pioneering community-based approach to data-gifting and the work 100% Digital Leeds are doing to combat digital exclusion and data poverty.
  • Good Things Foundation sharing information about the National Databank, including demonstrating recent changes to the website that have streamlined the process. They will be on-hand to troubleshoot and offer advice on how to overcome any challenges to signing up to the Databank or gifting SIMs.
  • Leeds Libraries will share their experience of implementing SIM gifting as part of libraries’ digital inclusion offer and the positive outcomes that have come about as a result.
  • Virgin Money will share how and where organisations can signpost people to their SIM gifting service, and speak about some of the other services they offer to those looking to better manage their finances.
  • The Old Fire Station will talk about how they identify beneficiaries via services such as their community food pantry.