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Care leavers

Thousands of care leavers facing digital poverty

A colection of old mobile phone devices from the pre-smartphone era.

There are 80,000 18-25 year old care leavers in England – and fears are growing that many remain without internet access, leaving them unable to access education, training, work and to keep in touch with friends, family and professionals.

The lockdown period shone a light on the predicament that care leavers have always faced – that most of them are not digitally connected as they cannot afford to pay for Wi-Fi or limited data.

The Government’s scheme to provide digital devices and internet access to vulnerable young people in England during the pandemic acknowledged that there was a real problem that needed to be addressed – but it’s set to end in November. With tighter restrictions already coming into place as a result of COVID-19 many will again be left digitally isolated.

In an open letter to Ministers, leading charities and youth organisations including Catch22, National House Project, Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, Family Rights Group, Children’s Rights Alliance England, Esmée Fairbairn, Coram Voice, Care Leaver’s Covenant as well leading apprenticeship provider WhiteHat have come together to call on Government to:

  • extend and improve uptake of the government scheme that provides digital devices and internet for all care leavers so that they are not left digitally isolated in the short term,
  • ensure every care leaver in England has a digital device and internet access for at least 12 months when they first live independently, and
  • recommend that all local offers for care leavers include the right to a digital device and internet access.

Alongside the open letter, care leaver Luke Fox has started up his own petition on behalf of the Care Leavers National Movement (CLNM) which is part of the National House Project. They are hoping to get 100,000 signatories to secure a debate in parliament.

Luke Fox, Chair of CLNM said:

“Digital poverty is not just about teenagers and those leaving care getting free internet and devices as many will think. Everything uses the internet in this generation, and it’s only becoming more advanced and integral. Running a home, having a career, a social life and everything in between has become almost dependent on having this connection and types of devices. That is the reason for the campaign, we want care leavers to have the same chances and success as those who were not in care. Is that too much to ask?”

Chris Wright, Chief Executive of Catch22 said:

“For many young care leavers, having access to a laptop and a decent internet connection has been a lifeline during the pandemic. With the scheme ending and COVID-19 restrictions tightening again, there is a real danger of young care leavers slipping back into digital poverty in the coming months and beyond. We cannot afford to let the digital divide become even wider. We urge Government not to desert these young people, and to keep them connected. Digital access must be seen as a right, not a privilege.”

Mark Warr, Chief Executive, The National House Project said:

“Digital poverty is not just a here and now issue. Care leavers can’t afford the devices, wi-fi and data that keep them connected to the world. As parents we make sure that our children have the things they need to make their way in life. Care leavers are our children and we have a moral obligation to ensure that they have the same access to education, job opportunities and contact with friends and family as everyone else – and that means being digitally connected. Digital connection must form part of the leaving care offer if these young people are to have the same life chances as everyone else.”