The bigger picture
Digital inclusion – why it’s a lifesaver
The importance of connecting society’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
It wasn’t just businesses that were given a lifeline during lockdown thanks to digital technology. It was also shown to be critical for connecting vulnerable people across the UK and for helping young people to access education following universal school closures, highlighting the need for digital inclusion and connectivity for all. Around 1.5 million people over 50 suffer from chronic loneliness in Britain every year. This was before COVID-19 struck, which has made the problem even more acute. During lockdown, the most vulnerable people were asked to stay home to avoid contracting the virus. This left millions isolated from friends and family and completely alone. We all know how good it felt to chat and play games virtually during lockdown, but this was particularly important for the more vulnerable who were self-isolating. However, many, particularly the elderly, either don’t have access to the technology or don’t know how to use it. The increasing use of digital technology in schools raised concerns before the pandemic. Young people in many of the UK’s poorer families were struggling to learn without adequate access to the internet and suitable devices. The increase in home schooling as a result of COVID-19, and the potential continuation of remote learning now schools have reopened, further amplifies the problem of access to connectivity. Both of these issues, affecting the youngest and oldest in our society, underline the critical importance of digital inclusion. This is a subject close to our hearts at Vodafone, so it was a priority to support ongoing initiatives to help address the issues…
Vodafone has recently launched the schools.connected programme – giving free connectivity to 250,000 school children so they can access school work from home and continue their education if they have to isolate. In a recent article, Nick Jeffery, CEO, Vodafone UK said: “We know many hundreds of thousands of children in the UK can't access education from home because they don't have the right connectivity - this means children, already at a disadvantage, could fall further behind. We want to help and so have created this emergency support package for 250,000 children and young people.”
Connecting the elderly with Wirral Borough Council
Vodafone’s partnership with Wirral Borough Council shows the value digital technology can add to vulnerable and elderly people’s lives when they have the tools and guidance they need. Around 150 tablets were provided, along with supporting connectivity, to some of the local authority’s residents most at risk. Age UK helped Wirral Council distribute the devices, preparing an easy-to-read guide to setting them up. The tablets have helped older people and those with dementia connect with their friends and families.
Keeping Scotland connected
Vodafone has recently launched trials of ‘Connected Education’ in Scotland - a new suite of digital services for teachers and pupils. It includes tablet devices for teachers and children, mobile Wi-Fi connectivity, advanced-grade security, and technology consultancy for educators. It aims to help those with inadequate access to technology at home, giving children vital digital skills, essential for many jobs of the future. We have also partnered with The Wheatley Group, one of Scotland’s leading housing, care and property-management groups, to provide it with a digital solution that enables its Housing Officers access to vital information on the move and in real time.
Helping the vulnerable with Birmingham City Council
Around 5,000 vulnerable young people were also supported by Vodafone in Birmingham. Around 100 SIMs were provided for those most at risk, each with unlimited usage for a 90-day period. They were used in devices that had been sourced by the local Birmingham City Council to help them stay connected during lockdown.
Providing access to education with West Everton Community Council
As part of its ongoing support for West Everton Community Council’s ‘Better Connected’ pilot programme, Vodafone provides laptops and connectivity to families in the area, to access education and keep them connected. More than 250 SIMs and Mi-Fi units have been donated to date, together with 20 physical devices, mostly to young people aged 16 and under.
Supporting ‘Connecting kids’ with the University of Lancaster
Vodafone has provided over 350 SIMs and connectivity for a 90-day period, to connect donated laptops and devices as part of the University of Lancaster’s ‘Connecting Kids’ initiative. The ongoing scheme enables school children in Lancaster access to key learning materials.
Enabling education with the Welsh Government
During lockdown, Vodafone worked with the Welsh Government to connect their Digital Inclusion Programme. Thanks to the delivery of 4,000 paid-for SIMs from Vodafone, the three-month programme was able to provide connectivity to children who didn’t have access to the Internet or a device for their remote schooling. It helped them confidently continue their education in a period of uncertainty before they return to the classroom.
Raising care home spirits
It’s no secret how severely care homes have been affected by the pandemic, with residents unable to receive visitors for months on end. To provide some much-needed light relief for care home residents across the country, Vodafone partnered with popular soprano Katherine Jenkins to deliver a heart-warming live virtual sing-along direct from the award-winning singer’s back garden. The event raised the spirits of thousands of vulnerable people nationwide.
The Great British Tech Appeal
At the height of the pandemic, back in May 2020, Vodafone launched a tech appeal that encouraged people to send in their old phones and equipment so they could be repurposed and provided with connectivity. Partnerships with charities Barnardo’s, SafeLives and the British Red Cross saw 2,000 reconditioned devices distributed to those in need. The learnings from this initiative will be drawn up on to develop a longer-term technology trade-in programme.