BCS – led by Freddie Quek as Chair of the Digital Divide Specialist Group – partnered with the Digital Poverty Alliance to respond to the Communications and Digital Committee’s recent call for evidence on digital poverty.

The response highlighted the serious issue of digital exclusion in the UK, outlined why organisations like the DPA and BCS have prioritised this issue, and set out the challenges we face in reaching our goal of eradicating it.

BCS believes that the digital divide is modern measure of inequality, and that alongside more immediate projects like increasing access to devices and connectivity, computing education and digital skills are vital to closing this gap long term.

Rashik Parmar, Group Chief Executive of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT said: ‘Digital has moved from providing valuable services to an essential part of daily life. As such we need to ensure that everyone can and is able to access the digital services they need which is an essential part of the BCS’s purpose of ‘making IT good for society’’.

Paul Finnis, Founder of Digital Poverty Alliance, commented: ‘Digital exclusion is a critical issue that must be urgently addressed to ensure that no one is left behind in the digital age. The Digital Poverty Alliance is committed to working closely with partners and stakeholders to tackle this challenge and create a more inclusive and equitable digital society. Our forthcoming national delivery plan will provide a roadmap for addressing digital exclusion and ensuring that everyone has access to the benefits of technology.’

What is a call for evidence?

A House of Lords call for evidence is a request for information and submissions from individuals, organisations and experts on a particular issue or topic.

When the House of Lords issues a call for evidence, it is seeking input and insights from a wide range of stakeholders to inform an inquiry. The call typically outlines specific questions or issues that the House is interested in exploring, as well as instructions for how to submit evidence.

The House of Lords may use the evidence gathered to produce a report that includes recommendations for government action or changes in policy. Calls for evidence are an important tool for gathering information and insights from a diverse range of sources, and they help to ensure that the work of the House of Lords is informed by a broad range of perspectives and expertise.

Defining Digital Poverty

Digital poverty describes a situation where individuals or communities lack the necessary resources and skills to access, use, and benefit from digital technologies. It is a form of social exclusion that results from limited access to digital tools and skills, which can have a significant impact on people's lives.

Those affected by digital poverty may lack access to reliable internet connectivity, digital devices such as smartphones and computers, or the skills and knowledge to use them effectively.

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Digital poverty can be particularly challenging for low-income families and individuals, as well as for those who live in rural or remote areas where access to digital infrastructure is limited.

It can result in limited access to online educational resources, job opportunities, healthcare services, and other essential services that are increasingly available online.

Expert insights into digital poverty and the call for evidence

Rob Wirszycz, Master of WCIT at the London City Livery Company for the Tech Industry

‘The assumption that we have universal coverage for digitally based access to everyday services is false. While we saw, in the pandemic, an accelerated shift to digital payments, for example, the truth remains that many segments of our society were unable to keep up with the pace of change. These segments include older people as well as those who are economically disadvantaged. It is vital that we do not exclude these people from being able to access essential capabilities such as paying for goods, parking their car, and arranging for changes to their benefits.’

Dave Jones, Chair of UK IT Leaders

‘Digital exclusion is not new, however the severity of the problem probably came to light during the Covid lockdowns. At that point there were lots of schemes launching, all trying to help solve the problem in different ways. It’s a complex issue - the ‘joining the dots’ initiative brought the tech communities together to brainstorm on what needed to be done, culminating in the Digital Poverty Alliance and the BCS initiative. Well done to all involved and I’m sure the efforts will bring about change and help those that most need it.’

John Leonard, Research Director at Computing

‘The intervention by the Digital Poverty Alliance and the BCS is extremely timely. With technology touching every aspect of modern life, including health, education and access to basic services, the fact that the already disadvantaged are cutting back or experiencing reduced access to services will widen an already yawning societal divide. It's an area where targeted intervention could make a huge difference to millions of people.’

Mark Chillingworth, Founder, European CIO, CTO writer, and Editor at the Horizon CIO Network

‘The UK has some of the lowest productivity in Europe. Like many countries, the UK suffers from transport poverty where there are rural and urban areas where people cannot access affordable transport and therefore cannot work, adding to the skills shortage that is hampering productivity in the UK. Digital exclusion, like transport poverty is preventing potential workers from gaining access to digital skills, again hampering productivity. If efforts to deal with digital exclusion are not made, the divide between rural and urban centres will widen and social mobility will falter.’

Dan Warburton, Co-founder and CIO at WaterCooler

‘Digital exclusion in the UK is primarily caused by a lack of access to technology, skills, and affordability. This leads to a significant economic and social impact, as those who are digitally excluded are more likely to be disadvantaged in education, employment, and access to essential services. The UK tech communities along with the government can help bridge this gap by investing in initiatives that provide access to affordable technology, digital skills training, and community support. Collaboration between government, industry, and community organizations is also crucial in ensuring that no one is left behind in the digital age.’

Tree Hall, CEO at Charity IT Leaders

‘Digital literacy and access to digital provision are an essential part of life in the UK today. Without this, individuals are deprived of access to many essential services including medical care, education and social care. Technology has the potential to transform lives, and in some cases, to save lives. Our members, many of whom are working with the most vulnerable, excluded and disadvantaged communities in the UK, see first-hand the devastating impact of digital exclusion. This intervention by the Digital Poverty Alliance and the BCS comes at a time when many families and individuals are in crisis, and has the potential to make an enormous difference to families and individuals across the UK.’

Marc Dowd, VP Research and Executive Partner at IDC

‘As an executive advisor to leaders in Governments across EMEA for IDC I see this issue frequently. It is vital that the UK government and all the tech communities to gather together to solve this problem which is not intractable, just hard to address.’

Russ Shaw CBE, Founder of Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates

‘The UK tech plays an increasingly vital role in driving economic growth, especially as all sectors of the economy embrace digital. Unfortunately, there is an increasing ‘digital divide’, which must be closed by ensuring that everyone can have access to digital. Tech London Advocates, Global Tech Advocates and the broader tech community across the UK welcome greater engagement and collaboration to encourage tech leaders and professionals to support this initiative and make an impact.’

Doug Drinkwater, Director of Strategy at HotTopics & former CIO UK editor

‘Digital exclusion is a nuanced and complicated social problem, which is affecting millions of people in the UK today. And it has been brought about by a multitude of factors, from socioeconomic inequality and technological innovation to poor education and accessibility. There is no ‘silver bullet’ to achieving digital inclusion, but joined-up initiatives like this from the BCS and the Digital Poverty Alliance (DPA) go to show that social progress is possible when we work together to achieve the same goal.’