From education to employment

Greater Manchester partners with UK’s largest internet service providers in a drive to tackle digital poverty across the region

iPad on top of pile of books

Digital exclusion and data poverty are significant challenges across the UK, impacting on access to health, education and work and public services move increasingly online and hybrid working becomes part of normal workplace practice. For millions of people across the UK, accessing online services is neither convenient nor efficient, those who live in data poverty struggle to get online, can become excluded and are increasingly unable to access the most basic of services.  

In a drive to address inequalities and levelling up across the region, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has brought together five of the largest internet service providers, social housing providers and local authorities from across the region to tackle digital exclusion in social housing settings. 

At a time of a cost-of-living crisis which is seeing inflation rise in the UK the highest in 30 years, supporting people living in persistent poverty and low incomes, is an urgent issue. 1 in 5 of Greater Manchester’s residents live in social housing and GMCA estimate that up to 60% face levels of digital exclusion. Whilst the Government has the power to impose regulatory social tariffs on all providers to help the most vulnerable, the current position is to encourage providers to introduce targeted tariffs on a voluntary basis.  

At Connected Britain, the UK’s most significant connectivity event, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, recognised the role internet service providers (ISP’s) can play in tackling digital exclusion and shaping the UK’s digital future. 

Andy announced Greater Manchester’s latest digital inclusion pilot, a collaboration between five of the UK’s largest ISP’s, five Greater Manchester based social housing providers, local authorities and GMCA as a ‘step change for connectivity and for people living in poverty’ stating that if we are to truly make the UK a ‘connected Britain’, we have to ensure everyone is connected.

The pandemic has seen the UK’s social housing providers re-evaluating the role they play in supporting vulnerable residents. The pilot will see each of the involved social housing work with a nominated ISP to develop a better understanding of digital connectivity amongst 1,000 of their residents, aiming to reach 5,000 social housing households in total and making this the largest digital inclusion social housing intervention known in the UK, potentially globally. This pilot will present an opportunity to explore a basic standard of connectivity for households, barriers to digital inclusion and sustainable interventions at scale and will be developed in way that can be replicated across the UK.  

Speaking at Connected Britain 2022, Andy said:

“We estimate up to 60% of social housing residents in Greater Manchester face levels of digital exclusion. I believe that digital connectivity should be recognised as a basic human right – and treated as a utility like water, gas, and electricity. By bringing together five of the UK’s biggest internet service providers with five social housing providers from across the region, we’ll be able to understand better the challenges behind that belief, as we attempt to tackle digital exclusion within social housing settings.”  

There is a particular focus on residents aged over 75, those with disabilities and vulnerable younger residents. The pilot will involve extensive engagement with local communities to understand how different cohorts are accessing digital services, the barriers (including financial constraints) which prevent some households making the most of the benefits that digital can bring, and what the minimum standard for digital connectivity and services in social housing settings should be.  

Cllr Eamonn O’Brien, GMCA Lead for Education, Skills, Work, Apprenticeships & Digital said:

“As a world-leading digital city-region, we need to empower our people to benefit from the opportunity digital brings, like having the ability to get online and access public services confidently and safely and be able to do so affordably. This pilot is just one way we work working towards achieving this ambition in Greater Manchester.” 

Nick Horne Digital Inclusion Lead for the Greater Manchester Housing Providers said:

“Compared to the general population, the income pressures faced by people and families living social housing means they are less likely to be able to afford and sustain a traditional internet service contract. We know that having access to a high-speed digital connection enables people to connect with family and friends, and better access services such as advice on budgeting, welfare benefits, health, education, job and networking opportunities. The affordability of internet access is made worse by the cost-of-living crisis especially as being online helps people access better deals and save money. 

“This is why it is so important for the Greater Manchester Housing Providers to work with the GMCA, Local Authority and telecoms partners and through the Social Housing Pilot develop an affordable internet access service that helps our residents get online and stay online during the challenging months ahead”.  

The pilot has already garnered interest from some of the UK’s leading academic institutions into digital inequalities including Liverpool University, Cambridge University, Loughborough University, the Ada Lovalace Institute and the University of Chicago. 

The programme demonstrates collaboration in action and will see a group of major UK internet service providers work together to achieve a common goal for residents in Greater Manchester. BT, Hyperoptic, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, O2 and Vodafone will be matched with one of five social housing providers from across Greater Manchester – Bolton at Home, Southway Housing, Stockport Homes, Wigan and Leigh Homes and Wythenshawe Community Housing Group. 

The research, learnings and insights will be shared openly in a virtual event series commencing from November. Greater Manchester is stepping up its response to the cost-of-living crisis affecting residents, with leaders announcing a new range of support measures and a new drive to coordinate efforts across the city-region, this new pilot will support these efforts along with tackling the digital divide in Greater Manchester. Find out more on Greater Manchester’s attempts to fix the digital divide

Related Articles