Social Justice

What would happen if you lost your internet access overnight? We asked the public

Nearly a quarter of people surveyed by YouGov for The Big Issue said losing internet access would wreak chaos on their lives.

Nearly a quarter of people surveyed by YouGov for The Big Issue said losing internet access would wreak chaos on their lives. Image: Pixabay

As the cost of living crisis intensifies, households across the UK will look to their budgets to see which, if any, non-essential costs could go. But one that’s unlikely to be given up by most is the cost of staying connected to the internet.

In exclusive polling by The Big Issue, more than 1,600 members of the public had their say on how their lives would change if they lost digital access – and the findings proved that being able to afford, and use, the internet is a necessity for creating an equal society.

When asked how their lives would change if they lost access to digital technology overnight, nearly a quarter of respondents said it would wreak chaos in their professional lives.

The testimonies – produced by an independent Big Issue-commissioned YouGov survey, in association with O2 – flagged fears of losing jobs, incomes and the ability to get back on the employment ladder.

This was closely followed by worries around how difficult it would quickly become to manage the crucial parts of everyday life, from banking – with nearly half of in-person UK bank branches closing since 2015 – to keeping up communication with friends and families to avoid the painful social isolation laid bare during the pandemic.

The loss of digital access – whether by no longer being able to afford devices and connectivity, or no longer having the skills to use the technology – would simply be a “disaster”, dozens said.

For the respondents, who participated in the research online, the question posed was a hypothetical one. But their concerns reflect the experiences of around 11.3 million people in the UK who don’t have the resources or basic skills needed to use the internet and find themselves locked out of essential services.

The figures, revealed in research by Lloyds Bank, showed that nearly five million people never go online at all. Around eight per cent of the country’s population could still be digitally disengaged by 2030, despite government estimates that 90 per cent of all jobs in the next two decades will require some form of digital knowledge.

People living in poverty, Black and minority ethnic groups, care leavers, older people, those without English as a first language and disabled people are all already more likely to be digitally excluded. It’s a barrier which has been linked to poorer health outcomes and lower life expectancy. And digital inclusion risks deepening the UK’s poverty crisis as the cost of living soars, experts have warned. 

“For people on the lowest incomes, the digital divide of not being able to access or afford technology means poverty is able to tighten its grip on their lives, potentially pushing them further into hardship.” Sara Willcocks, head of external affairs at anti-poverty organisation Turn2us, told The Big Issue.

The Big Issue’s research showed that the internet’s grip on how we live our lives isn’t welcomed by everyone. Around 19 per cent of respondents said they would manage if they lost their digital access, find the experience “peaceful” and would have more free time to read books and listen to music. 

But staying connected means being able to do “the things many of us take for granted, like accessing the services [we] need, finding work or staying in touch with friends and family”, said Helen Milner, chief executive of digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation. 

The organisation runs the National Databank, which provides connectivity to disadvantaged people via free sims and mobile data. The initiative, supported by providers including Virgin Media O2, Vodafone and Three, is ensuring “we aren’t leaving these people behind,” Milner added.

“With living costs rising, people are having to make stark choices between having the data they need and heating their house or feeding their family.”

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