If you or a loved one struggles to connect with the digital world, this article is for you. Read this list of seven free ways to get out of digital poverty.
Digital poverty is a major issue that affects over 32% of the world population, primarily in the global south, which includes Africa, South America, and parts of Asia. So, you might assume that there is no digital poverty in the western world, let alone a G7 country like the UK, right? You would be so wrong!
In this very country, there are many people who are held back by digital poverty. You might fall into that category, or you might know someone who does, for whom this article might be useful (and if so, please share it with them!).
What is digital poverty?
“Digital poverty” refers to the lack of access to reliable internet connectivity and digital devices, tools, or gadgets. This can hinder individuals’ ability to participate fully in the digital world — and since contemporary society is so centred around the digital, a lack of access to it may cut a person off from the world around them, both socially and professionally. In the UK this is still a challenge, and it became more apparent than ever after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns (that’s actually partly what inspired us to start WODIN!).
Lack of access to reliable internet speaks to connectivity
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2021, around 5% of households in the UK (approximately 1.7 million households) did not have internet access. WODIN believes that the vast majority of this statistic includes ethnically diverse households, migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. While this figure may have improved since 2021, in our humble experience as a digital inclusion organisation, the progress is slow to trickle down to ethnically diverse communities.
The ONS also reported that the majority of individuals who did not use the internet cited reasons such as not having the necessary skills, lack of interest, or lack of access to a device. Let’s talk about that for a minute…
Lack of digital devices
The Good Things Foundation’s “Digital Nation 2020” report stated that around 7.7 million people in the UK did not have access to a device such as a laptop, desktop, or tablet.
We at WODIN know that digital poverty disproportionately affects individuals from low-income households and marginalised communities. Our Tafuta Black Women, Digital Poverty and Employability Feasibility Research and Social Impact Study did find that, while the Digital Nation Report was quite right in their findings, their research did not look very specifically at the solutions for ethnically diverse communities, which are historically considered “hard-to-reach” and “minoritised”.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s research also found that digital exclusion is linked to socioeconomic disadvantage, with those in poverty more likely to experience limited digital access.
The WODIN leadership and beneficiaries have been there. Many of our beneficiaries come to us in various forms of poverty and lack. We have lived experience of the economic and social disparities faced by people on low income. People who migrate to the UK and many who seek asylum are highly educated individuals with thriving careers in their mother countries. Yet, despite their high level of qualification and experience, they find themselves at the bottom of the totem pole, facing various forms of poverty.
It is organisations like WODIN that aim to support migrants and asylum seekers/refugees to connect to the right services and organisations so that they can live a thriving life in the UK. WODIN is passionate about bridging that economic divide for Black immigrant women by starting with the digital side of things, as lack of access to digital services is often a key stumbling block to assimiliating into UK society.
We talk more about what contributes to digital poverty in this article. Do feel free to take a look, especially, if you are in a position to support our work, if you are faced with digital poverty, or if you know someone who is facing this challenge.
In this article, we will share seven ways to not only get out of, but conquer, digital poverty. Let’s get to it…
1. Borrow devices from libraries
In the UK, one amazing thing about libraries is that most of them offer digital devices such as laptops, tablets, and Wi-Fi hotspots for borrowing. You can borrow these devices to carry out online activities that you need for work, education, and communication. Just go to your local library and ask someone who works there if they run a scheme like this.
Library workers are always happy to help — that’s why they do what they do. Even if they don’t have a scheme like this, asking might inspire them to look into starting one.
On top of this, feel free to ask if they know of aid programmes for those living in digital poverty. Libraries exist to be a hub for information, so use them to their fullest potential by seeking resources for yourself! (Some library workers will even be happy to provide casual training on how to use computers and the internet).
2. Contact a charitable organisation
Google is a great tool, right? So do some research. Plus, there’s no shame in being unfamiliar with (or unable to access) digital tools. In fact, you’ll find that there are organisations throughout the country and the world that want to help you overcome digital poverty. Investigate local or national charitable organisations that teach digital skills or donate devices to those in need.
WODIN is a good example of an organisation like this, and if you’re in Liverpool or Merseyside, we encourage you to get in touch with us. You can visit our website to find out how we might help you reach your full potential.
3. Utilize public WiFi
If you do have access to a gadget but not to data, public WiFi might help. We know that it isn’t free to set up WiFi in your home, and those with limited financial means might not be able to pay that monthly bill. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get online. You’ll likely find several places in your community, particularly in town and city centres, that offer free, public WiFi.
Admittedly, it’s not quite as easy as that. Train stations and shopping malls might have a public WiFi network, but those networks often aren’t very reliable, secure, or stable. You’ll tend to have much better luck with the public WiFi in libraries and cafes, as those who run these buildings expect people to come and work in the space, and are eager for you to stop by, buy something, subscribe to their services, get online, and get working and connecting with others.
We do talk about the precautions you should take when using public WiFi in our workshops on internet safety and cyber security. Contact us to join our summer program.
4. Buy second-hand devices
If you have a small budget and cannot afford to buy a new device, you can consider buying a second-hand device. Second-hand devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops are often available at affordable prices, and you can use them to access the internet. You can check online marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace, MusicMagpie, Gumtree, eBay, and Amazon, to find second-hand devices. You can also go to stores like CEX, a chain that primarily sells second-hand films, games, and electronic devices at unusually low prices.
It’s also worth visiting Facebook and searching for a locally-based Facebook group where people offer their old belongings for free to anyone willing to pick them up. Just search for ‘FREE STUFF’ and then the name of your local area to see if a group like this exists.
5. Use free productivity tools
Free productivity tools such as Google Docs, Dropbox, and Trello allow you to carry out work-related activities without spending any money. These tools are available online, and you can access them using public WiFi. The free Google Suite, which includes a calendar, a spreadsheet maker, a video call facilitator, online storage space, and more, will help you connect with others and organise your time and online resources.
If you want to use the internet for business purposes, like to advertise your services, there’s also a ton of free tools that are designed to make the process easy for those who don’t have a ton of online training. For example, Canva can help you create beautiful images for social media and marketing in just a few easy clicks — no Photoshop experience required.
6. Access online classes and tutorials
If there’s something you’re confused about when it comes to online life, we can almost guarantee that there’s a class, tutorial, or instructional video somewhere on the internet that can guide you through it.
We’d recommend our own WODIN courses as a great place to start. They’re designed to help those who are new to navigating the digital world. You can find out more about the training we offer on our website.
Otherwise, with a digital connection, Google is your friend! As are other platforms like YouTube, Pinterest or TikTok, where millions of people are uploading helpful content every day. Search up the question you want answered, and you may find a friend to help you.
7. Connect with the internet-savvy people in your life
Finally, we know it can be hard, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re not alone in your struggle to access the digital world. Millions of people around the world and in the UK are in a similar position.
It’s likely you have someone in your life — a friend, a family member, or a neighbour — who is savvy with the internet. Try reaching out to see if they might help guide you through your difficulties with the online world. With a loved one helping you along, navigating the internet might start to feel less intimidating and more like fun. We also have volunteers willing to support women in Liverpool and Merseyside with your digital needs, so get in touch with WODIN if you’d like us to connect you to a helper. You are not alone.
It’s important to note that digital poverty is a dynamic issue, and ongoing efforts are being made by the UK government, organisations, and communities to address this problem and bridge the digital divide. For the most recent and detailed statistics on digital poverty in the UK, I recommend referring to reports from reputable sources such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS), and relevant non-profit organisations focused on digital inclusion, like Women and Digital Inclusion – WODIN.