IGP Stories

Findings from a UBS experiment on Digital Inclusion

Social Prosperity Public Services Europe

Juan Manuel Moreno

The uncertainty and disproportionality of the Covid-19 crisis have highlighted the critical importance of local public services in supporting people and communities. In the UK, the disparate experiences of digital exclusion during lockdown exacerbated deep-rooted gender, intergenerational, ethnic, socio-economic, and geographical inequalities surrounding internet access, prompting renewed political dialogue about the importance of universal access to the internet and other related critical services such as digital infrastructures, digital training and literacy, and internet usage and accessibility across the population.

Community anchor organisations such as housing associations and social housing providers, moved quickly to design and deliver rapid interventions to provide essential support for affected families and vulnerable individuals. One of these initiatives, the Connected Communities Inclusive Broadband project, was launched in June 2020, in London, as a collaboration between Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association (HARCA), LETTA Trust Schools, Tower Hamlets Council, East End Community Foundation, and Internet provider Community Fibre.

The first phase of this project will run for two years, targeting between 100 and 200 low-income households in Poplar, Tower Hamlets, providing each participant household family with free broadband Internet, a Google Chromebook device, and basic information and communications technology (ICT) training and support. The objective is to scale the project up to 1,000 (Phase 2) and 10,000 (Phase 3) households in the medium to long terms.

The IGP was invited by Poplar HARCA to evaluate the initial phase of the project. Working in collaboration with two Citizen Social Scientists, the IGP carried out a series of interviews with participant families to learn about their experience of digital exclusion and the impact of the project on their day-to-day lives.

These personal accounts and the findings arising from them are presented in this report. They show, through vivid examples, how a system of Universal Basic Services (UBS), in this case an ‘Internet UBS’, can be critical not just in reducing the everyday costs of living, thereby helping to tackle poverty and inequalities, but also by supporting and creating the capacities and capabilities that allow people to participate fully in society from home schooling and learning to job searching, through access to essential e-government services, GP appointments, cultural entertainment and/or connecting with loved ones.

In the report, we recommend accelerating and scaling up the learnings and impacts of local digital inclusion initiatives, such as the Connected Communities Inclusive Broadband project, and other UBS-type experiments, as a crucial step towards supporting people’s livelihoods security, tackling poverty and structural inequality, and building back better in a post Covid-19 world. Doing this would require identifying a target population to better quantify and understand the dimension of digital exclusion; Working in partnership across sectors and Learning from and supporting existing initiatives to develop a UBS Community of Practice for knowledge and best practice exchange.

The findings and recommendations from the research are intended for both policy, academic and wider public audiences, and will serve to build evidence for a system of Universal Basic Services (UBS) a radical, yet feasible and sustainable policy framework proposal developed by IGP’s Social Prosperity Network (SPN) to re-design a welfare system fit for the 21st century.

This study, and the SPN, are part of IGP’s Prosperity Co-Lab (ProCol) UK initiative whose work is focused on rethinking prosperity and the future of the welfare state through citizen-led research and cross-sectoral collaborations. Through its ProCol UK team, the IGP is currently working with partners in London (Camden and Tower Hamlets), Liverpool City Region, and Leeds to develop a UBS Community of Practice for knowledge and best practice exchange on best models of UBS-type experimentations.

You can access and download the full report here.

The policy brief with summary findings is available here.

Image credit: Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

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