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Digital divide will deepen without Government action: Committee criticise Government response

20 October 2023

The House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee has today criticised the Government’s response to its report on digital exclusion which it published in June.

The response

The Government’s response – which has been published by the Committee today - is described as lacking ambition and failing to engage with the concerns raised by the Committee’s report. The Committee emphasises that the divides between digital ‘haves and have-nots’ will deepen unless the Government takes the issue more seriously.

In a letter to Minister Paul Scully, Baroness Stowell, Chair of the Communications and Digital Committee, rejected the Government’s assertion that digital exclusion is a priority, pointing out that the Government digital strategy is over a decade old and includes links to now defunct websites and long discontinued programmes. She points out that other government strategies are updated regularly, and that the failure to do the same for digital exclusion “suggests a reluctance to dedicate political attention and departmental resource to this matter.” The Committee concludes that the Government’s claim that digital exclusion is a priority is ‘not credible’.

The Committee expresses further disappointment at the lack of action on recommendations it put forward to help tackle digital exclusion, including removing VAT from internet social tariffs, giving Ofcom powers to ensure social tariffs are appropriately promoted, embedding digital skills targets across education life stages and expanding internet voucher schemes to more people in need.

Chair's quote

Baroness Stowell, Chair of the Communications and Digital Committee said:

“Digital exclusion is not a problem that will solve itself.  It is an ongoing challenge and we need clear direction from the Government about how they will prioritise making sure people are not excluded or left behind when it comes to enjoying the benefits of being online.

“Our report set out a series of key areas where the government could take the lead in tackling the digital divide, including in developing digital skills and confidence among those with the lowest level of digital capability.

“In their response the government have reasserted that digital exclusion is a priority, but their actions do not live up to the words. It is simply not credible to claim it is a priority when the key strategy for helping people keep pace in such a fast-moving area is over a decade old.  It is disappointing that the Government’s response has not taken up the Committee’s positive challenge and signalled the ambition needed to close the digital divide for the UK to thrive as a tech superpower.”

Further information