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DIAW Response to a Welsh Government Consultation on a Minimum Digital Living Standard

Welsh Government launched a consultation in September 2021 on Using National Indicators and Milestones to Measure our Nation’s Progress.  Within the consultation was a question about an indicator on a minimum digital living standard.  Setting a new minimum digital living standard is a priority for the Digital Inclusion Alliance Wales so we were pleased to see this question as part of this consultation.  Many of our member organisations responded individually, but we felt it important that we respond as the Alliance.  Members were asked to feed in any information they wanted included and below is the submitted Digital Inclusion Alliance Wales response.

Using National Indicators and Milestones to Measure our Nation’s Progress

Q12. Do you think an indicator on a minimum digital living standard should be added to the existing indicator set?

Yes.  Digital Inclusion Alliance Wales strongly supports the addition of an indicator on a minimum digital living standard to the existing indicator set.

a) If “Yes”, please provide the idea(s) or concept(s) you would like the indicator to capture?

The Digital Inclusion Alliance Wales (DIAW) is a multi-sector group of organisations bringing together people from across the public, private, third, academic and policy sectors in Wales to coordinate and promote digital inclusion activity.  DIAW called for a minimum digital living standard as a priority in its recent Agenda for digital inclusion.

The Digital Strategy for Wales: Mission 2 Digital Inclusion defines digital inclusion as being able to access and use the internet and engage with digital technology, confidently and safely, as and when needed or wanted. These are basic requirements for participation in a digital society. The digitisation of everyday life in Wales, accelerated further by Covid-19, makes this issue more important than ever, if everyone in our communities is to benefit from digital technology.

The Digital Strategy for Wales states “We will use the levers at our disposal to support the public sector, businesses and homes in Wales receive the connectivity they need to engage in digital activities”.  Delivering a minimum digital living standard for Wales would be a bold opportunity to combat some of the fundamental inequalities in Welsh Society.  A minimum digital living standard indicator would be such a lever, giving Welsh Government the evidence to explore new avenues of funding and to research the complexity of digital exclusion.

Digital inclusion is critical to the prosperity of our nation and to every one of the seven national well-being goals of the Wellbeing for Future Generations Act.  A minimum digital living standard is specifically relevant to a more equal, prosperous, resilient and healthier Wales.

As more of our public sector services are being digitised and banks and shops are leaving high streets and moving online, we risk more people being excluded from society.  As NHS Wales adopts “digital first” we risk creating a digital ‘Inverse Care Law’– leaving behind those who could benefit most from new technologies and models of care.  Indeed, digital inclusion is now being recognised as a new social determinant of health.  If we do not ensure that citizens in Wales are reaching a minimum digital living standard, and have indicators to measure progress, we risk widening the difference in health and equality outcomes for our communities.

DIAW has also called for a requirement for all new homes to include digital connectivity as standard. Social housing tenants fall into one of the groups most likely to be digitally excluded.

The Curriculum for Wales will be implemented from 2022 with digital competence as a mandatory cross-curricular skill which must be embedded: preparing young people for an online world.  For the Digital Competence Framework to be successful we must guarantee that every child and young person has access to adequate digital equipment and connection to have an opportunity to learn online and not fall behind with formal and informal education.    There is similar digital requirements for post-16 learning in the Digital 2030 Framework and for all people of Wales in the Digital Strategy for Wales: Mission 3 Digital skills.  To ensure these outcomes are reached, we must be able to measure whether every household meets a minimum digital living standard.

Access to broadband at 30Mb/s is already a key indicator in the Access to Services domain of the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation but place-based access to digital infrastructure should not be the only indicator of digital exclusion.  An indicator for a minimum digital living standard must include robust measures of:

  1. digital skills and confidence;
  2. the ability to afford sufficient data and devices; and
  3. place-based accessibility of digital infrastructure, including access to mobile coverage where reliable broadband is unavailable.
c ) Are you aware of a data source(s) that could be used to measure this indicator?

To have meaningful and accurate measures for this indicator, we believe that multiple data points would be required. This is likely to improve over time as new data sources become available, but we would urge inclusion of an indicator now rather than waiting for all data to be in place.

  • To understand access to broadband, there are Full Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) data which enables local authorities to understand their digital deprivation rates i.e. the proportion of properties that are still without an FTTP connection.
  • To further understand access to mobile data coverage and public wi-fi access there are data available from OFCOM in their Connected Nations reports.  Those people who are unable to secure broadband packages, (because they are in temporary accommodation, are unable to afford the monthly rates or because they live in an area not served by a reliable broadband connection), often rely on mobile data and prepaid mobile packages.  Improved data for mobile coverage and the affordability of packages offered by mobile providers in Wales would be required to be a reliable source to measure this indicator.
  • Data Cymru hold data on deprivation rates at a local level in Wales and this could be adapted and broadened to be used as a data source for the ability to afford sufficient data and devices.  There would need to be a better understanding by regulators of the different financial implications between prepaid data bundles and monthly billing.
  • To start to understand other issues around affordability and skills there are existing reports that could be drawn upon, such as the UK Essential Digital Skills reports from Lloyds Banking Group and the National Survey for Wales; the latter being a more robust source due to sample size.
  • In addition, we draw your attention to the Nominet Digital Youth Index, a new annual benchmarking platform built to offer year on year insight into research collected from 2,000 8 to 25 year olds, social workers, youth workers, parents and carers exploring what it feels like to be a young person growing up in a digital world.

To help inform thinking in this area The Good Things Foundation Blueprint to Fix the Digital Divide and Carnegie UK Trust’s ‘Lessons from Lockdown: 12 steps to eradicate digital exclusion’ may be helpful.  The Carnegie UK Trust, Good Things Foundation and leading academics have recently secured a research grant from the Nuffield Foundation to support a ‘proof of concept’ study to develop a MDLS for households with children for the UK. This is an exciting development which we hope will provide valuable insight and research into the practical application of MDLS in Wales and the wider UK and one which we should watch with interest as we develop this indicator in Wales.

It is also important that we “future-proof” this indicator, as what it means to be digitally included will change dramatically as more of our lives and services are moved online, and technology continues to develop.

We believe that this minimum digital living standard should be continually informed by user-voice and lived experience and should be based on qualitative research with communities conducted in a bottom-up fashion for it to be better informed.  If the objective of this indicator is to lift all citizens in Wales to a minimum digital living standard, then it is crucial that we grasp the opportunity to utilise co-design and citizen engagement tools and techniques to engage with those citizens who do not meet that standard now to understand the experience of those who are digitally excluded.  Only then can we hope to understand the extent and complexity of digital exclusion in Wales and build a picture of the challenges and barriers faced by individuals, households and communities.

The complexity of digital exclusion requires us to take a cross-sector approach to lead the World in establishing a ‘Minimum Digital Living Standard for Wales’ – an agreed standard of what it is to be digitally included in modern Wales, aligned with our national Well-being Goals.  By taking a cross-sector approach, the Welsh Government can lead the way in defining what it means to be a digitally inclusive society—creating the metrics required and putting in place the right approach and actions to ensure that we see improvement in service delivery and progress toward full digital inclusion for all.