- The Government has announced it will be extending their current digital connectivity offer to the end of January 2021 at a minimum, with a view to extend it to July 2021.
- Islington Council has become the first local authority in England to ensuring that all young people leaving care in the borough will be provided with free WiFi for twelve months when living independently for the first time.
Building on these successes, we’re continuing to pursue our longer-term goals outlined in the open letter to Ministers, including to ensure every care leaver in England has a digital device and internet access for at least 12 months when they first live independently.
Open letter to:
- Gavin Williamson MP, Parliamentary Secretary of State for Education
- Vicky Ford MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families
- Nadhim Zahawi MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Business and Industry
We are calling on government to:
- Extend and improve uptake of the government scheme that provides digital devices and internet for all care leavers
- Ensure every care leaver in England has a digital device and internet access for at least 12 months when they first live independently
- Recommend that all local offers for care leavers include the right to a digital device and internet access
Call to ensure care leavers are digitally connected
The world revolves around being digitally connected. Having access to a device and being connected to the internet are essentials that our society cannot live without.
Care leavers are a part of our society – and the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the digital exclusion that many care leavers in England are experiencing. There are still many care leavers who are not digitally connected.
The Government’s scheme to provide digital devices and internet access to vulnerable children in England at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic provided a lifeline to many care leavers.
Those previously without devices or connectivity had the opportunity to access online learning, apply for jobs and attend interviews, and connect with friends and family. These are things that the majority of people rightly take for granted.
But government has stopped issuing laptops, and the internet access is set to end in November 2020.
We also know that many care leavers were unable to access the devices – or secure an internet connection to go with them. In a survey of local authorities, covering more than 6000 care leavers between them, 40% said that none of the care leavers they worked with had received a laptop or tablet as part of the Government-funded scheme. This was due to a variety of issues, including IT problems, distribution delays and confusion over eligibility criteria.
Being connected to the internet is vital for the c. 80,000 care leavers in England aged 18-25. Not only does it mean they can continue studies or employment at home and in the absence of face to face learning, but it allows them to connect with their peers. Without a computer and internet access, care leavers who already face considerable challenges feel more isolated and are further disadvantaged.
- As a first step, we want to see the government extend the existing scheme and commit to making sure care leavers can access it easily. That means clear guidance, fast delivery and appropriate training for users
- We also want to ensure every care leaver in England has a laptop and internet access for at least 12 months when they first live independently
- And we want to see government guidance setting out that all local offers for care leavers include the right to a device and internet access
Having reliable internet access makes a huge difference to those care leavers who have been able to take advantage. Taking it away would not only be a backwards step, but would have a potentially damaging effect on these young care leavers’ ability to learn, communicate and work effectively. It would plunge many into digital poverty.
Devices and internet access are crucial to minimise disadvantage and maximise opportunity. Digital access should be a right, not a luxury.