Care leavers at risk of 'digital isolation' as Covid-19 restrictions tighten

Fiona Simpson
Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Thousands of care leavers left without access to the internet during lockdown missed out on education, training and work, a coalition of charities has found.

Many care leavers have been left without access to a laptop and the internet. Picture: Adobe Stock
Many care leavers have been left without access to a laptop and the internet. Picture: Adobe Stock

Leading charities and youth organisations supporting care leavers aged 18 to 25 in England have written to ministers warning that thousands of young people risk becoming “digitally isolated” as cases of Covid-19 increase.

During the height of the pandemic in April, the government announced a package of support for care leavers including access to free laptops and wifi.

However, the coalition warns that many of the 80,000 care leavers in England are still without access to technology while the scheme comes to an end in November.

In the letter, organisations including Catch22, National House Project, Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, Family Rights Group, Children’s Rights Alliance England, Esmée Fairbairn, Coram Voice, Care Leaver’s Covenant as well leading apprenticeship provider WhiteHat have come together to call on the government to: 

  • Extend and improve uptake of the government scheme that provides digital devices and internet for all care leavers so that they are not left digitally isolated in the short term.
  • Ensure every care leaver in England has a digital device and internet access for at least 12 months when they first live independently
  • Recommend that all local offers for care leavers include the right to a digital device and internet access

Chris Wright, chief executive at Catch22 said: “For many young care leavers, having access to a laptop and a decent internet connection has been a lifeline during the pandemic. With the scheme ending and Covid-19 restrictions tightening again, there is a real danger of young care leavers slipping back into digital poverty in the coming months and beyond. We cannot afford to let the digital divide become even wider. We urge government not to desert these young people, and to keep them connected. Digital access must be seen as a right, not a privilege.”

Mark Warr, chief executive at the National House Project added: “Digital poverty is not just a here and now issue. Care leavers can’t afford the devices, wi-fi and data that keep them connected to the world. As parents we make sure that our children have the things they need to make their way in life. 

“Care leavers are our children and we have a moral obligation to ensure that they have the same access to education, job opportunities and contact with friends and family as everyone else – and that means being digitally connected. Digital connection must form part of the leaving care offer if these young people are to have the same life chances as everyone else.”

Meanwhile, care leaver Luke Fox has launched his own petition on behalf of the Care Leavers National Movement (CLNM) which is part of the National House Project in a bid to secure a debate in parliament on the issue.

Fox, chair of CLNM, said: “Digital poverty is not just about teenagers and those leaving care getting free internet and devices as many will think. Everything uses the internet in this generation, and it’s only becoming more advanced and integral. 

“Running a home, having a career, a social life and everything in between has become almost dependent on having this connection and these types of devices. That is the reason for the campaign, we want care leavers to have the same chances and success as those who were not in care. Is that too much to ask?”

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