Survey finds many adults live in data poverty

One in seven in Scotland do not have sufficient data to meet basic needs

Credit: The Digital Artist from Pixabay

One in seven adults in Scotland is in data poverty, according to research from innovation agency Nesta.

More than 620,000 adults in Scotland, or 14% of the adult population cannot afford sufficient mobile or broadband data to meet their essential needs. The figures are based on a survey of 1,006 adults in Scotland conducted in January and February 2021.

The issue of data poverty is different from connectivity, with 94% of those surveyed saying they had a broadband connection at home and 80% both broadband and a mobile phone contract that included data; but those experiencing data poverty either not able to afford enough data for their needs or having to cut back elsewhere to pay for it.

The research found a correlation 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 were more than twice as likely to identify as data poor (18%) than those living in more affluent areas (7%).

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Unemployed people, 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 was found to be an issue, with half of those experiencing data poverty saying they did not know how to shop around for the best deals.

The situation has also worsened because of the pandemic.

Before Covid-19, one in five people experiencing data poverty regularly used Wi-Fi in public libraries, but restrictions have resulted in reduced use of public Wi-Fi accessed via shops, public transport, libraries and leisure facilities.

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 fulfil 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.”

Gillian Fyfe, Citizens Advice Scotland’s strategic lead for strong communities, added: “This is important research which mirrors the evidence that we see from Scotland’s CAB network. There are too many households that are unable to access digital services and are being left behind. We have called for the Connecting Scotland programme to be extended and for more access to affordable tariffs for low-income consumers, and we repeat those calls today in light of this new data from Nesta.”


Sam Trendall

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