MY sister’s old bedroom in my parents’ house is strewn with clothes. Jackets draped over the chair; jumpers and trousers piled up on the bed. This isn’t the result of my mum having a spring clean and finally chucking out the stuff we’ve been using the family home as storage for. The clothes don’t even belong to my sister. No, these are my 63-year-old dad’s cast-offs, and this is his newly rebranded eBay room – a nomenclature I never thought I’d use.

My parents haven’t ever been tech-shy, but over the course of the pandemic any last reservations they held about the internet have slowly dissipated. My mum, a keen shopper, was always reluctant pre-Covid to enter her card details online, but now adds to her virtual basket with the same ease she’d load up a real one (though she muses sadly that TK Maxx simply "isn’t the same"). My dad has taken on the role of digital Del Boy, uploading photos of his wardrobe wares to an app then bartering back and forth with BargainHunter2753 from Pontypridd until one or the other relents. Elsewhere in the family is my 92-year-old Iranian grandfather, known to share life updates via Instagram Stories and comfortably more likely than any of his grandchildren to create a TikTok account.

What I’m telling you right now is a story of everyday privilege. As the world has pivoted to a more digital way of life, my family has had both the means and the know-how to adapt. We have been able to keep in touch with one another and experience an approximation of normality, albeit one with fewer discounted reed diffusers from the candle aisle. An Ofcom study last summer showed the UK’s internet use had reached record levels as many of us made the shift to remote working and our jaunts to the local pub were replaced by an endless abyss of Zoom quizzes. But there are hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland who have limited internet access, if any at all, and lack the skills to navigate the online world. According to web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee in a blog post published last week, the pandemic has carved a deeper digital divide between the connected and disconnected.

We associate digital exclusion with older generations, and it’s true that for every switched-on nonagenarian like my grandad is someone whose only tablet access lies in the sweetie cupboard. However, young people are affected by it too. During periods of home schooling, kids in low-income families have been less likely to participate in online lessons because they don’t have a broadband connection, or they share their devices with siblings. These children are automatically expected to be digital natives, as though the language of the internet is received through osmosis if you were born in the noughties. A sense of shame could prevent many digitally excluded young people from speaking up about it, the same way I pretended to have Sky TV when I was at primary school.

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It’s not a polarised problem; I have seen from working with job-seekers how people of all ages are struggling to find work because of digital exclusion. Many employers only accept online job applications and the recruitment process frequently involves attending digital assessment centres and video call interviews. People who have worked for decades have been plunged unexpectedly into unemployment and are shut off from most job opportunities by dint of having no WiFi or library access. Some people only have an outdated paper copy of their CV and don’t know how to create a digital version. Sure, a family member could help, but not if they live alone. Many do not own tablets, laptops or computers. One person I spoke to cancelled his broadband package and sold his laptop after losing his job because he couldn’t justify these luxuries while on Universal Credit.

But they’re not luxuries any more, are they? When we need tech to educate our kids, to prevent social isolation, to inform people when they’ve come into contact with someone carrying a deadly virus, to order groceries and to find a job, it crosses the boundary from being something that makes life more comfortable to a basic human right.

Socioeconomic factors are the biggest cause of digital exclusion, but poor infrastructure plays an important role too. Just 17 per cent of Scotland has access to full-fibre broadband – compared to more than 95% in Japan – and a 2019 Ofcom report showed one-fifth of our country does not receive 4G coverage from any mobile phone company. The internet is as essential to our infrastructure as water and electricity, so why are we lagging so far behind other countries?

Valuable digital resources have been provided to underprivileged people throughout the pandemic by third sector organisations, which rely heavily on funding and donations. The Scottish Government last week published a 111-page document on how Scotland will thrive in a digital world, outlining plans to improve internet access and provide equipment and digital skills training to those who need it. The right rhetoric is present and correct, the accompanying visuals diverse and inclusive, but I wonder just how quickly we can realistically progress when telecoms are reserved to the UK Parliament and the current Prime Minister cares not a jot about tackling inequality.

Jeremy Corbyn pledged to nationalise high-speed broadband in the 2019 General Election campaign

Jeremy Corbyn was widely ridiculed in 2019 for pledging to nationalise high-speed broadband, a policy that surely doesn’t seem so radical to its detractors in 2021. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, proposed the roll-out of superfast broadband to all UK homes by 2025 by subsidising suppliers such as BT, but has since dialled that figure back to 85% of residences – and even that estimation has been deemed “ludicrously unrealistic” by Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

The pace at which the Government is addressing a lack of access to internet services and devices isn’t anywhere close to keeping up with our rapidly evolving digital landscape, and it would be foolish to believe the digital gap will shrink post-pandemic. We may regain a greater portion of our former offline lives, but our new normal has fostered new habits. Let’s not make the poorest among us pay for them.

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