We recently published a blog about the importance of digital during an extended period of self-isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We invited people from the voluntary sector, public sector and housing associations to join us in an online community to start thinking about how we mobilise to help those most at risk and digitally excluded. We’ve had a great response so far, and we will continue to explore different ways of helping people get online in these challenging times.

At the initiative of the Scottish Government, SCVO will represent the voluntary sector in a coordinated emergency response.  

We must mobilise now to find, equip, train and support everyone in the country who lacks access to digital services.  

The Problem 

Digital connectivity will quickly become a lifeline for our most vulnerable people in the COVID-19 emergency. However, in the most vulnerable populations we have many people who do not have: 

  • access to an internet enabled device and / or broadband or 4/5G 
  • the ability to use them even if they do have them (significant numbers will be unable to use them or they will be sitting in a cupboard) 
  • the ability to pay for access to the internet, maintain devices when they break etc. 
  • some of those households also lack other vital services – a landline, a television. 

So – we need an emergency national aid effort to mobilise immediately to: 

  • Find them– coordinate across NHS, Local Authorities, Third Sector etc. to identify those people
  • Get devices to them– important here will be to learn from the lessons of international emergency. Lots of well-meaning attempts to get donations of old kit etc. and circulate creates more problems than it solves. We need a single device type, new not secondhand.
  • Get broadband or mobile internet access to them (ideally both for fail safe reasons) – free for 6 months
  • Provide a national team oftrainers and digital buddies to get people startedwith using the device and getting online.
  • Create an ongoing support serviceto cope with issues with devices and ongoing training needs.

Each day that goes by will make doing this ever harder. We must start now. If we do not seize the opportunity to coordinate and do this in a large scale coordinated fashion once for Scotland we will waste time and money and energy. We will fail to reach people. We will fail them.  

If we do this right it could galvanise, coordinate and focus the energy in the country to help. 

We believe this will be one of the single biggest steps we could take to mitigate the harms that could be visited on our most vulnerable people in coming months. Digital will become a lifeline and our most vulnerable will need it most. We must be confident that everyone has the devices and the access and the support they need.  

Now, more than ever, no one should be left behind in our Digital Scotland.  

The Ask 

Join this effort to mobilise a national digital emergency response team (within a matter of weeks) to find, equip, train and support households who currently lack access to the internet at home (no broadband or mobile access and / or device) due to poverty and who are amongst the most vulnerable population groups. 

15000 – 20000 people are in the most vulnerable group (living in poverty and in the vulnerable group for COVID-19)  

The Scottish Government, Scotland IS, SCVO, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, Glasgow Disability Alliance and many others are already working to get this moving. 

We are working rapidly to understand: 

  • Who is not currently online,  
  • Where are they, and  
  • What are their needs.  

In the first instance we’re asking you to join us on our online Slack community by emailing digital@scvo.org.uk or email us directly to let us know how you think you can help.