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Greater Manchester Databank celebrates milestones in supporting residents and families in poverty

Launched in June 2022 as part of Good Things Foundation and Virgin Media O2’s National Databank, the Greater Manchester Databank provides free SIMs and mobile data, as well as talk minutes and texts, to people who can’t afford mobile data packages.

Access to the internet is becoming as important as other basic utilities, and a lack of access can impact the ability to access healthcare, manage finances and stay connected. The increasing strain of the cost-of-living crisis on household incomes mean millions of residents across the UK are unable to participate fully in today’s society.

Over the last nine months, through a network of local Digital Inclusion Hubs across the region, the Greater Manchester Databank has provided mobile connectivity to over 20,000 residents facing levels of digital exclusion.

It is estimated that 700,000 people in Greater Manchester only use the internet in a narrow or limited way, with 450,000 residents being classified as ‘non-users’. Since launching, the Greater Manchester Databank has issued 20,000 SIMs to eligible residents in need. These SIMs have been distributed via 100 Digital Inclusion Hubs - a growing network across the region. Hubs include women's refuges, carer support organisations, libraries and foodbanks.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said “I’m delighted to celebrate the milestones the Greater Manchester Databank has achieved. Over the last nine months, through a network of local Digital Inclusion Hubs across the region, the databank has provided mobile connectivity to over 20,000 residents facing levels of digital exclusion.

"This reinforces the scale of this challenge. Collectively, we need to do more to ensure our people aren’t disadvantaged and that everyone has equal access to the opportunity that digital brings, like ensuring residents can get connected and stay connected, particularly in the era of a cost-of-living crisis.

"The National Databank by Good Things Foundation (external website) and Virgin Media O2 (external website), of which the Greater Manchester Databank is part, is going a long way in helping us with an emergency response to tackle the issue of digital poverty and supporting our residents to ensure they do not get left behind."

The Greater Manchester Databank is an emergency response to support people and families where current mobile and broadband provision is not affordable nor accessible for them. Local community organisations across the city-region have been encouraged to apply to become a databank, enabling them to support residents who can’t afford mobile or broadband packages with an offer of free data for 12 months, digital skills training and support.

Joshua, 60 years old, is a jobseeker from Charlestown, Manchester. He is actively looking for work but due to low-income is unable to access the internet at home. Joshua said: “I don’t want to sign a contract for a long period. I’m on a low income and can’t afford to be online at home especially with the cost of other bills at the moment.”

Supported by his local databank, the North Manchester Community Partnership, Joshua was provided with a SIM supplying him with 12 months free data. Now he can search for employment opportunities at home. As well as job hunting, Josh has been able to keep in touch with his friends and family online. This connectivity has proven invaluable to Josh, living alone. Being online has helped him to feel less isolated and is allowing him to do activities he was unable to do from home before. Josh now does his banking online and tracks his outgoings, which he finds important as the cost of living is still on the rise.

The most recent Greater Manchester Residents’ Survey shows that a quarter (24%) of residents are seeking information or support about the cost of living for the first time. And around 7 in 10 residents have mentioned being worried about the rising cost of living. As a result, the inability to afford mobile data or internet connectivity, data poverty, is a rising issue. The survey suggests that around 1 in 9 residents (11%) cannot always afford internet connectivity through mobile data or an internet connection.

Disabled people are more likely to experience digital exclusion, stating that they are unable to afford digital connectivity (73% compared to 88% across the city-region) and older respondents are less likely to have access to the devices they need (61% compared to 91% across the city region). Due to the small sample size surveyed to understand this issue it was still important to note that digital exclusion had risen in January 2023 to 40% from 30% in November 2022.

The National Databank is a 'food bank for connectivity data’, helping thousands of vulnerable people to get connected by giving community groups and charities access to free data. The Databank allows organisations to provide free SIMs and mobile data, as well as talk minutes and texts, to residents in need via Good Things Foundation’s network of Digital Inclusion Hubs.

The Greater Manchester Databank draws down this available data from the National Databank to enable registered community organisations across Greater Manchester to support residents locally with a free SIM and mobile data.

Helen Milner OBE, Group CEO of Good Things Foundation, said “We’re delighted to see the Greater Manchester Databank reach this important milestone of supporting 100 Digital Inclusion Hubs and issuing 20,000 SIMs to eligible residents in need after just 9 months in action.

"Good Things Foundation’s National Databank combined offer of devices, data and digital skills support is already helping reduce the digital divide through local and regional databanks like this one in Greater Manchester, giving people an essential digital lifeline against the backdrop of the cost of living crisis.

"But with 2 million households still struggling to afford internet access in the UK today, and 10 million adults lacking the most basic digital skills, collectively we all need to do more to help the most vulnerable people in our society connect with digital.

"This underpins our 2022-2025 strategy, asking for more ambitious and far-reaching change as we scale up and expand our work in the UK. Together, we can help fix the digital divide - for good.”

The databank is part Get Online Greater Manchester, a campaign that brings together the support available for residents to get online, and is just one way in which residents are being supported. Helping Hand also brings together a range of advice and support available across Greater Manchester, and nationally, to residents who need a helping hand including help with digital, housing and energy bills.

Find out more about the Greater Manchester Databank and Greater Manchester’s ambitions to fix the digital divide.

Read Joshua's story "residents in poverty supported with at home connectivity"

Article Published: 21/03/2023 15:38 PM