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Data poverty affects families across Scotland

This news post is almost 3 years old

Being data poor means not being able to afford sufficient, private and secure mobile or broadband data to meet essential needs

More than half a million adults in Scotland - a number near equivalent to the population of Glasgow - describe themselves as being data poor, according to research from innovation agency Nesta. The number of 620,000 is equal to 14% of the adult population.

The research shows an intersection between data poverty and lower income with 26% of adults earning less than £20,000 per year identifying as experiencing data poverty. Those living in more deprived areas are more likely to identify as data poor (18%) than those living in more affluent areas (7%).

Those out of work, people with disabilities, adults who feel less confident reading in English, adults who live with children and those in larger households are also more likely to experience data poverty.

Financial and digital literacy is an issue with half of those experiencing data poverty saying they don’t know how to shop around for the best data deals.

Case studies included in the report demonstrate the challenges of learning, looking for work, managing medical appointments and staying connected with friends and family online without sufficient data.

Before Covid-19, public Wi-Fi offered a safety net, with one in five people experiencing data poverty regularly using Wi-Fi in public libraries pre-pandemic. Lockdown restrictions have resulted in the loss of public Wi-Fi accessed via shops, public transport, libraries and leisure facilities, reducing use of sources of public Wi-Fi by as much as a third of the pre-pandemic level.

The survey is part of a joint research project from Nesta teams in Scotland and Wales prompted by anecdotal accounts of data poverty from partner organisations throughout 2020, including one in Wales which described people they supported as having to choose between “data or dinner”.

The combined surveys from Scotland and Wales showed nearly one million people across both nations experience data poverty.

This report follows the publication of What is data poverty? in December 2020 from which the definition of data poverty used in this research was developed.

Both reports explore solutions to help tackle data poverty including helping people to get the best data deals, whether through action from providers or regulators or financial and digital literacy support, data sharing or gifting, the white-listing or zero rating of essential sites, as well as solutions which address the systemic social and economic issues driving data poverty.

Adam Lang, head of Nesta in Scotland, said: “In our increasingly digitised and online world, ensuring that everyone has adequate, affordable and secure data to fulfill their essential needs is an increasingly urgent social, economic and moral priority. That almost one in seven adults in Scotland experience data poverty is deeply alarming and requires an urgent response.

“The pandemic has shown that access to the internet is essential for individuals and communities. Many vital services such as education, social security, health and work are now online. Those who cannot access enough data for their needs are increasingly excluded from services, work, community participation and social engagement - that’s not good enough.

“One of the most significant findings from this work is that data poverty is a complex issue with no silver bullet solution. It needs sustained engagement with its many root causes to address properly. With election campaigns in full swing here in Scotland, we hope that policy makers and all those seeking elected office will engage with these findings and work to ensure that tackling the drivers and mitigating the consequences of data poverty is a central priority of any agenda for equality and inclusive social innovation in the months ahead.”