Peers have called for VAT exemption on special internet deals for individuals on benefits to promote digital inclusion. According to a House of Lords committee report, those without internet access face disadvantages in various areas, including job searching. The committee criticised the government for lacking a credible strategy to address digital exclusion.
In response, the government emphasised its commitment to ensuring that nobody is left behind in the digital age and highlighted efforts to provide discounted social broadband and mobile tariffs, starting at £10 per month and covering 99% of the UK. However, the report highlighted that 1.7 million households still lack mobile or broadband internet at home, and approximately one million people have reduced or cancelled their internet subscriptions in the past year.
As more services, including benefits and banking, transition online, access to the Internet becomes crucial. The committee emphasised that 90% of job advertisements are now exclusively posted online. Personal stories were shared to highlight the challenges faced by individuals without internet access. Bella, for example, spoke about her struggles during school without a personal laptop, relying on library access for her homework. Matt, who grew up in care, shared his experience of never having broadband internet in his home. The chief executive of the children-in-care charity Become highlighted the difficulties faced by care leavers.
Individuals who cannot afford data or internet access often face difficulties managing benefits claims and have to navigate challenges like limited library hours for form filling or printing. The report mentioned Lewa, who had to cut back on Wi-Fi expenses after her husband’s passing but later realised the extent to which her family relied on data. The Good Things Foundation, an organisation working to end digital exclusion, ultimately provided Lewa’s family with a tablet and data.
Baroness Stowell, the committee’s chair, emphasised that individuals without internet access miss out on online deals, further exacerbating their cost-of-living challenges. VAT exemption for special internet deals targeting those on benefits would help address these issues and ensure equal access to the benefits of online connectivity.