Digital divide: Poorer households left behind in broadband race during cost of living crisis

Poorer households are being left behind in the “broadband slow lane” despite relying more heavily on the internet at a time of rising prices, risking their future job prospects, a new LGA report reveals.

Poorer households are being left behind in the “broadband slow lane” despite relying more heavily on the internet at a time of rising prices, risking their future job prospects, a new report from the Local Government Association reveals today.

The LGA is calling for the appointment of a dedicated Digital Exclusion minister, who should be given direct government responsibility for a new strategy to close the gap between areas, giving its cross-cutting impact.

It comes as its new report on digital exclusion finds that households in the most deprived parts of England are less likely to be able to get fixed broadband which supports the fastest possible speeds, with access to fixed broadband 15 percentage points lower in the most deprived areas than in the least deprived.  

This is despite them using nearly 50 per cent more data than wealthier areas.

Separate figures also show a strong relationship between having fixed broadband and higher earnings and educational achievement, such as being able to work from home or for schoolwork. Each 10 percentage point increase in access to fixed broadband is associated with a four percentage point increase in the economic activity rate and about three points in the average Attainment 8 score at Key Stage 4.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, says a refreshed strategy is needed to ensure every part of the country can have future-proofed, gigabit capable connections, to transform communities and unleash people’s full potential.

Towns and cities continue to benefit from faster download and upload speed compared to rural areas, while those places with the best fixed broadband coverage tend also to have the best mobile coverage, the report finds, compounding the divide.

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Digital Connectivity spokesperson for the LGA, said:

“The Government has pledged to give every home and business access to the fastest possible broadband, but this report demonstrates the digital divide is still holding some back in the broadband slow lane.

“We need a complete refresh of the current digital inclusion strategy, which is nearly a decade old, with a minister in charge to oversee it and make sure no one is left behind.

“Reliable access to high-quality fixed and mobile broadband means that you can boost your skills, grow a business and enhance your job prospects, while also playing a vital role in reducing social isolation by keeping people in touch with family and friends. 

“Councils want to make sure that, no matter which part of the country you live in or your circumstances, everyone can experience the transformational benefits that fast internet access can bring.”

Notes to Editors

LGA: ‘The role of councils in tackling digital exclusion’

Fixed broadband is not always the most suitable option and therefore it is positive the Government’s recently published Wireless Infrastructure Strategy recognises the need to review the way in which good coverage of 4G and 5G networks are defined and measured to ensure they reflect new and increasing uses. 

The LGA looks forward to working with Ofcom to improve the quality of mobile coverage reporting.

The LGA’s Annual Conference takes place in Bournemouth from 4-6 July 2023 and the current programme is now live. For media accreditation please contact the LGA’s media team on 0207 664 3333 or email [email protected].