A good home must be a digitally connected home
Digital connectivity has become an essential part of what makes a good home, but many people are still missing out on the benefits.
In this blog, Ali Rogan, Good Home Inquiry Digital Consultant, talks about how the pandemic has fundamentally shifted our use and dependence on digital, the role it plays in a good home and the barriers that many people face in getting online.
The pandemic has meant a fundamental change in the way we interact digitally with an acceleration of people working from home, children home schooling and families spending much more time at home. We have seen thousands of online consumers buying goods online, many people experiencing their first video call, and health and care services shifting online with video consultations with a GP, physio or mental health nurse.
However, there are still many people who are missing out on the benefits of digital connectivity. Digital connectivity in this context means both the infrastructure that keeps us connected, like the broadband or Wi-Fi connection to your home, and the devices in your home that use these connections to make our lives easier.
There is a sharp digital divide in the UK, particularly pronounced for those in later life, who are less likely to be online than younger people. It’s not just about age, however: those with the lowest levels of wealth, health and education are also less likely to be online. Digital connectivity and internet services are also poorer in rural areas. According to Ofcom, there are 1.5 million homes across the UK without access to the internet.
While maintaining offline alternatives is vital to ensuring those who can’t or don’t want to use the internet are not left behind, there are real benefits to many people of getting online, and a broadband connection has become an essential utility, just like electricity and water.
Tackling the digital divide is a vital part of the levelling-up ambition – so what are the barriers people face in getting connected?
What are the main challenges?
As part of the Good Home Inquiry we’ve been exploring the challenges some face in getting online and what the policy levers might be to addressing these issues. One of the fundamental barriers to getting people online is connectivity. Without adequate connection, there’s no digital activity – so addressing the reliability and speed of internet connection to people’s homes is a vital first step. We also urgently need to ensure that there is consistent geographic coverage, with no ‘not-spots’ or really poor spots for internet connections.
For individuals and households, affordability is a key challenge – particularly for those on lower incomes, people aged over 65, people who are unemployed and disabled people. Data poverty is an ongoing issue that can prevent people from accessing the services they need, connecting with others, or carrying out vital activities like applying for jobs.
Even for those who can afford to get online, it's important to understand people’s values and what they want to do more of in order to address digital skills issues and help them get more connected. For example, having spent much more time at home over the past 16 months, it’s likely that people’s connectivity needs – both for work and leisure – have changed.
Finding innovative solutions
The Good Home Inquiry’s webinar will explore these challenges, what is being done to tackle them, and what more needs to be done. Emma Stone, Director of Design, Research and Communications at the Good Things Foundation, will reflect on what we have learnt about digital inclusion and the digital divide throughout the pandemic, in particular around affordability and data poverty, and will explore the policy barriers to greater digital inclusion.
Helen Burrows, Head of Media Policy at the BT Group, will discuss how BT is addressing issues around digital inclusion, and the barriers to achieving greater coverage. One way BT is seeking to tackle the digital divide is a new at-cost social tariff, offering support to low-income households.
Finally, Ceri Roberts, trailblazer lead at Eon’s ‘Homes for Living,’ will talk about how we can use connectivity to enhance the home, using the example of their project to help people stay in their existing homes for longer and stay connected. She will also explore the role of partnerships with organisations such as local authorities in getting people connected.
Find out more at our webinar, How does digital connectivity support and enhance a good home? or sign up for our Good Home Inquiry newsletter to stay informed on the latest news and events.
The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the policy or positions of the Centre for Ageing Better.