Cost of living forcing families to give up internet leading to 'data poverty'

Some families say they set timers to stop themselves using too much mobile data Credit: ITV News

Getting online was once considered a luxury. Now it is often essential to access many services, including healthcare and local authority departments.

But new research for the National Databank suggests many low-income families are considering disconnecting their internet access to save money, prioritising putting food on the table instead.

  • 86% of Brits say connectivity is essential for living their lives.

  • Almost 9 in 10 say they would be forced to give up the internet so they could pay for food, electricity or water instead.

  • More than two thirds of people earning less than £25,000 per year say they avoid using data-hungry apps to conserve their internet data.

  • Almost half have admitted setting a timer to limit their mobile data usage.

The National Databank, founded by the digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation, was started just over a year ago.

It operates in a similar way to a foodbank, providing internet access for those who cannot afford it but still need to access online services.

Nadia, who has been using the free sim cards, says it has been vital.

"Because I was struggling, I was actually sharing the wifi with my neighbour, even though it wasn't safe," she said. "But that's the only thing I could do at the time because I was struggling and the school kids' homework nowadays is all online."

One of the organisations which gives out data to people who need it is Get Families Talking, based in Birmingham.

Spokesperson Hafsha Dadabhai-Shaikh says the internet access is vital for the people she meets: "We have families who know that they need to save data in order to be able to speak to their GP and that's really, really not fair.

"So what that means is in order to save data they can't communicate with their families.

"They can't look after their own mental wellbeing because they are effectively saving their data in order to do that."

Watch more from Hafsha Dadabhai-Shaikh as she explains how difficult life becomes for the families she supports when they run out of internet data:

So far more than 50,000 sim cards have been given out to try to prevent data poverty but the National Databank warns there are still more households at risk of being cut off from the digital services they need, according to Adam Micklethwaite from the Good Things Foundation.

He said: "The internet really is an essential utility, and the cost of living crisis is pushing more people into data poverty so community organisations and charities all across the country can draw down data from the databank and give that directly to the people that they support and that provides a vital lifeline right now when so many people are struggling with the cost of living."

Watch more from Adam Micklethwaite from the Good Things Foundation as he explains what support is available:

Virgin Media O2 has donated an extra 15 million gigabytes of free data to help people stay connected, typically with a sim card which is pre-loaded with 20GB of data each month. That is enough data to:

  • Browse the internet for around 220 hours.

  • Send around 320,000 emails without attachments.

  • Download around 340 songs.

  • Watch around 800 minutes of TV.

Watch James Webster's full report looking at the increase in databanks across the UK: