At this year’s Connected Britain conference, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, announced a new digital inclusion pilot scheme pairing five ISPs with five social housing providers to help thousands of residents
As the cost of living crisis has only become more severe in the UK, the issue of digital exclusion was a major topic of discussion at this year’s Connected Britain conference in London. While the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the now-essential nature of connectivity to everyday life, many people may soon be forced to choose between heating their homes or their broadband access as inflation rises.
That’s why Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham took to the Connected Britain stage earlier this week to unveil a new pilot program that will see five internet service providers matched with five social housing providers aimed at better understanding and mitigating digital exclusion throughout the entire area.
Greater Manchester has around 260,000 residents living in social housing – around 20% of the region’s population – with estimates suggesting around 60% of these residents face the risk of digital exclusion.
The pilot scheme will see BT, Hyperoptic, TalkTalk, Virgin Media O2 and Vodafone team up with one of five social housing providers – Bolton at Home, Southway Homes, Stockport Homes, Wigan and Leigh Housing and Wythenshawe Housing – to deliver digitally. support for residents and work to gain a deeper understanding of the digital issues facing these communities.
This support will vary depending on the ISP in question, but is likely to take the form of digital skills training and discounted broadband packages and devices. Particular focus will be given to supporting some of the most vulnerable demographic groups in society, including people over 75, the disabled and vulnerable young people.
Each of the five partnerships will explore digital inclusion issues and interventions for up to 1,000 residents via each of these five partnerships, with the pilot aiming to reach a total of 5,000 households. The project is thus the largest digital inclusion social housing intervention in the UK.
“We estimate that up to 60% of social housing residents in Greater Manchester experience levels of digital exclusion. I strongly believe that digital connectivity should be recognized as a basic human right – and treated like a utility like water, gas and electricity. By bringing together five of the UK’s largest ISPs with five social housing providers from across the region, we will be able to better understand the challenges behind this belief as we try to tackle digital exclusion in social housing,” said Burnham.
Vodafone, the only mobile operator in the ISP group, has already announced it will provide free SIM cards to up to 1,000 residents under its every.connected scheme.
Further details from the rest of the ISPs are expected to be published soon.
If the pilot scheme proves successful, it is hoped the scheme will be extended to other parts of the UK, with more ISPs and social housing providers coming together to help close the digital divide.
In the meantime, Burnham hopes that Great Manchester can be transformed into a UK-leading digital city where no one is left out of the digital world.
“To be crowned Britain’s leading digital city, what would that really mean? It’s more than just the number of digital and tech jobs or the number of blue-chip players you have in the city region, it’s more than the infrastructure, ” said Burnham. “We strive to be a city region where everyone is connected on a daily basis so they can take care of their finances, do their homework, find work, find opportunities and book appointments from public services.”