Currently in the UK almost one in three children are growing up in poverty. One of the many challenges faced by the millions of people on the lowest incomes is digital exclusion. Increasingly families are unable to help their children with school work, stopped from applying for hardship grants and even locked out of making a GP appointment.

Almost half of the families Home-Start supports don’t have access to a laptop or tablet, like mum of three Kailey who is supported by Home-Start HOST.

Kailey has both physical and mental health issues and her husband Joe is her full-time carer. The family are unable to afford digital devices that would make a huge difference to their lives. They struggle to get by using Kailey’s phone - it’s used for everything from the children’s homework to Kailey’s online therapy sessions.

With the rising cost of living the family is struggling to manage household bills and is looking at what can be cut, including their basic broadband package, leaving them further digitally excluded.

Kailey said: “Anxiety stops me from leaving the house so I find it hard to attend my therapy appointments in person. My therapist has offered me virtual sessions but we only have my phone.

I’m trying to give these remote therapy sessions a go but it’s hard to keep focus when I have such a small screen. The connection also keeps dropping so I often end the therapy sessions feeling more stressed than when I started them.”

It’s not just Kailey’s therapy sessions that’s affected by the family’s lack of access to digital technology, but the children’s education too. Kailey explains:

“We can’t afford to go out and get a laptop or tablet so we basically use my phone for everything. The children do their homework on it. I know their friends have tablets and feel bad that my children are at a disadvantage. Doing homework on such a small screen puts them off from doing it and I can see why.

My son has special needs and during lockdown his school loaned us a tablet. This was such a huge help. He was able to access his school work and connect with his friends. When he returned to school we had to give back the tablet.

I’d love to have the ability to give our children what they need at home to support their learning but with the costs of everything that’s impossible. I desperately want to get myself better so I can get back on my feet. Having the ability to connect to learning, therapy and support would mean the world to us as a family. It’s just hard to know how to get it.”

Mark's story

Mark Milne is supported by Home-Start in Suffolk. Mark worked three jobs as a packer, mechanic and roofer, but when he became a single dad to Daisy, aged 2, he had to give his jobs up so that he could provide a safe and loving home for the toddler.

Mark is having literacy classes to improve his reading and writing skills, but he is hampered by a lack of access to computer devices that would make a huge difference to his ability to learn and be able to read bedtime stories to Daisy.

I struggle with reading and writing and was always much better at practical things. But I want to get better so I can read to Daisy at night. While we can just about manage, as she gets older it will be harder for me to do this with her unless I can improve. I know there’s so many online tools to help with this, but I can’t do them on the small screen that’s on my phone.

Now I have Daisy full time I can no longer work so we’re on universal credit. With the costs of everything going up it’s worrying. If an appliance breaks I can’t just go out and get a new one. I know it would be good to get a computer to do my lessons on, but the reality is there’s no way I can find the money for that. We’re just about managing as it is.

I’m determined to give Daisy the best possible childhood. I want to develop myself and return to work to give her everything she wants. Daisy has helped me to become the person I’ve always wanted to be. Everything I strive to accomplish is because of her.”

An Ofcom report from 2020 estimates between 1m and 1.8m children do not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home. 

Low-income households are also less likely to have an internet connection in their home, instead relying on expensive mobile phone data packages at a time when weekly food and heating bills are ever increasing.

Home-Start's partnership with BT is focused on tackling the digital divide affecting so many of the families we support like Kailey’s and Mark’s.

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