This website uses cookies for anonymised analytics and for account authentication. See our privacy and cookies policies for more information.





Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

Digital and the cost-of-living

A changing landscape

I joined SCVO in the summer of 2019, and in the three years I’ve worked in digital inclusion I’ve seen a remarkable transformation of digital inclusion. In early 2020 we were largely working with the willing – those organisations that could see the benefit of digital and how it could help improve the lives of those they work with. By the end of March 2020 digital was everyone’s business, and we came to view it as an ‘essential lifeline’ during periods of national lockdown. It now feels like we’re somewhere different again; digital isn’t quite as high up the list of priorities and we’re heading deeper into a cost-of-living crisis. But why does this matter?

A digital nation

It matters because digital is no longer seen as an essential lifeline but a choice, as it should be. But this choice isn’t an easy one to make. Households now have to make incredibly difficult decisions about what bills to prioritise, and being online this winter isn’t going to feature at the top of a list that includes heating and food. In early 2020, this may not have been such an issue, but we are now a digital nation. The legacy of the pandemic is an increasingly digital world, and most essential services are accessed online. The support people need won’t be accessible if they can’t afford to be online.

The poverty premium

Those that are unable to be online can end up paying more for basics like utilities, often referred to as the ‘poverty premium’. For example, Lloyds Bank estimates that those that are most digitally engaged save £228 per annum on bills, compared to those that are least digitally engaged. Being able to shop around and compare prices for utilities won’t solve poverty, but it can make a significant difference to some of the costs of living. It’s not just comparing prices on utilities that can help people save money, it’s the wider benefits? of being connected. If someone has internet access at home and can, for example, attend a healthcare appointment on NearMe then they can avoid incurring other costs like travel, childcare and having to take time away from work.

Choice?

This now leaves me with an acute level of discomfort talking about digital inclusion as being a ‘choice’. Being digitally connected is now as essential as ever. It’s how we access public services, it’s how we work and it’s how we navigate our day-to-day lives. There is no separation of the ‘digital’ world and the ‘real’ world: it’s one reality. It’s not a choice if we’re expecting households living in poverty to make a choice between being digitally connected and paying other bills. The immediacy of need for food and heat can’t win against any potential saving of being online. So, what do we do?

There’s already been a power of work to help get people online. Across Scotland there are a range of initiatives like Connecting Scotland,  Simon Community’s Get Connected 500, People Know How’s Reconnect project, and Techshare from Clackmannanshire Third Sector Interface. Besides the individual benefits to being digitally connected, services also stand to gain from digital inclusion. The Charity Digital Skills Report 2022 found that 73% of charities are delivering services online. Being able to deliver services digitally allows for some efficiency savings, which means resource can be reallocated to those that need it most in a face-to-face context, with many services now operating hybrid models of support.

In terms of what works, we know that trusted relationships are key to helping people get online, overcoming their fears and building their digital confidence. The voluntary sector has played a key role in this for a number of years, but the cost-of-living crisis now threatens our ability to continue to deliver this essential work as we face our own #RunningCostsCrisis (see our recent special edition of TFN).

Any service, in any sector, has an unavoidable stake in ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from being online. As we move into the winter months and further uncertainty over spiralling costs we know that the voluntary sector will face untold levels of demand and financial pressures. Our sector is the very lifeline that so many will turn to for support. We need greater cross-sector collaboration and investment and for everyone to do their part to ensure that people aren’t cut off this winter. We have a collective responsibility to work together to make our resources reach those that need it the most.

Last modified on 3 October 2022