Weekly Poll – Affordability of Communication Services (Week Beginning 18 January 2021)
Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 18 January 2021, we asked a question about the affordability of communication services.
Have you been unable to afford communication services, such as broadband and mobile phone packages?
- YES – 83% (116 respondents)
- NO – 17% (23 respondents)
We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.
Affordability of Communication Services
The vast majority of respondents (83%) stated that they are unable to afford communication services, which is leaving disabled people across the country, isolated and further marginalised from society. This is particularly concerning for people in the shielding category and those who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 and are advised to say at home. In certain cases, the affordability of broadband and mobile packages is restricting disabled people from accessing essential goods and services, whilst some people are prioritising communication services over other essential items.
“At a time when disabled people and people shielding are being asked to use online food delivery services, we can’t afford broadband to get online so how do we do this? These things need to be thought through and financial assistance offered to help people get online to order food and be able to keep up to date with information.”
“I struggle to afford communication services and often choose that over other things. There is an opinion often that internet shouldn’t be a necessity, however my internet controls my lights and heating that I physically can’t do.”
“I’m housebound and not seen friends for years – internet is my access to the world. So, sometimes I might skip a meal and recently I got rid of my chargeable social care hours (keeping just free personal care) to prioritise internet, as otherwise I feel completely trapped and not part of anything.”
“I have been extremely lucky being able to afford the cost, however this was due to the fact that I cut down on other items as I see the internet as essential as I have been shielding due to the coronavirus.”
“My home phone has been cut off because I have been unable to pay the bill. This means I can no longer contact emergency services such as 999 or NHS 24.”
There was overwhelming consensus from respondents that providers of communication services must reduce the cost of broadband and mobile phone packages, so that these services are more affordable for people with low incomes.
“Broadband should be seen as an essential service and free or discounted broadband should be available to low-income households.”
“Packages could be discounted as we don’t have a lot of money and these services are a lifeline for many of us.”
“Communication companies should be made to have a very low cost, affordable or preferably free option that provides basic services for anyone. Additional services could be chargeable on a sliding scale.”
“At least basic internet provision free to all and assistance to use. This needs to be face-to-face as many people cannot use even basic internet let alone cope with local and national authority websites which can be difficult to use.”
“My main means of outside communication is via email. In order to have internet access I have to pay for a landline, which I do not use which is a large part of my internet charges. Internet Service Providers could offer a reduced line rental or zero line rental to disabled and vulnerable people which would make their services considerably more affordable.”
A significant proportion of respondents highlighted the need for greater support and access to communication services for people who are receiving social security benefits and grants such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
“Broadband, smartphones and data just cost too much from an already overstretched budget. Something has to give and keeping a roof over our head, eating and heating take priority. There’s no money left for digital connections, so I miss out on lots of things. Could people on Universal Credit get a discounted broadband fee, to allow us to keep connected?”
“Extra help and money from the government for people who are on benefits, in order for them to be able to access the internet and to make calls for help, support, or just to keep connected with the world.”
“I get Universal Credit and it doesn’t go very far. I am always scrimping and scraping to make ends meet. It would make a difference if people on low incomes were passported to affordable broadband deals and providers. Vouchers have been given out to households in the areas not covered by the right speed until the super-fast broadband project has rolled our coverage, so why not help people on low incomes to get and stay connected?”
“More readily accessible options for those that are on high disability benefits and rely on technology yet can’t work to afford it.”
“I have been refused some of the offers on mobile phone packages because I am on benefits and seen as a credit risk. I can’t afford to buy out right.”
One respondent observed that BT offer a low-cost telephone service for people on specific means-tested benefits. However, it was noted that the package is not publicised very well, meaning that many people who could potentially benefit from it are missing out.
“BT offers a scheme called BT Basic which helps reduce cost, but this isn’t well publicised. Ensuring that people are aware of this scheme would be useful in reducing costs. Similar schemes for mobile services would be a major step forward. Only having this available on landlines discriminates against people who don’t have landlines or cannot use them.”
Affordability of Devices and Software
Another aspect that must be considered is the affordability of devices and software that are required to access broadband and mobile packages. Some respondents stated that their current devices are not compatible with the latest videoconferencing platforms.
“My phone can’t do Zoom calling and I can’t afford an upgrade.”
“I have an old phone as I can’t afford to buy a new one. It doesn’t have the ability to do some of the stuff newer phones can like keeping in touch via Zoom calls so I feel a bit left out and it can be embarrassing to say I can’t join in online chats to keep in touch with folk.”
“I feel people with disabilities have to pay more for software, hardware and services – it’s unfair.”
“A mobile phone is necessary for those in the deaf community as well as others with challenges. Even though we cannot hear, we need to text and use apps to communicate with others who do not sign.”
“Not just about broadband and mobile, it is about the cost of apps and video platforms that offer assistance e.g. live speech transcription.”
A portion of respondents identified the importance of offering support for accessing communication services, devices and software to families that are currently home-schooling.
“Is there a way of getting set low-cost deals for the kit (phones, tablets, laptops). Many families are sharing for home schooling and it’s difficult.”
“I’m disabled and struggle to make ends meet. I have two kids and one laptop in the house. Try home schooling with that!”
“Kids who get free school meals should also get assistance with digital communication needs.”
“For children that need it, laptops or tablets should be supplied or loaned out by the school.”
In addition to the inequalities that are created by unaffordable access to communication services, providers must also recognise the importance of presenting information using a variety of accessible formats, that incorporate the principles of inclusive communication.
“Even when I can get internet access the sites are not accessible, the information is too complex and full of jargon and it’s so difficult to find what you’re looking for.”
“Ensure all information is made available in various formats, including easy read.”
“Clear, well-spaced print in letters – recent Scottish Government COVID-19 communications are well laid out. Communication ‘rights’ shared with people to encourage asking for accessible communication. Clear, calm and supportive tone.”
“More companies need to be forced through accessibility laws to provide a direct email address as a means of disabled communications. A lot are dropping any email access in favour of phone and live chat, I cannot use either! They are breaking the law, but no one does anything about it – Amazon is a prime example!”
In conclusion, a significant number of respondents (83%) are unable to afford broadband and mobile phone packages. It is extremely alarming that many disabled people, including those who are shielding, are being left isolated and without access to essential services and supplies. It is of the upmost importance for communication providers to lower the cost of their packages, which in turn will reduce the levels of digital exclusion.
Disability Equality Scotland, January 2021