Almost one in seven adults are experiencing data poverty and are unable to afford the online or mobile access they need, according to a new study.
Research from innovation agency Nesta found that 14% of people in Scotland are not able to afford sufficient private and secure mobile or broadband data to meet essential needs.
More than a quarter (26%) of adults earning less than £20,000 per year identified as experiencing data poverty.
Researchers also found that those living in more deprived areas were more likely to identify as data poor (18%) than those living in more affluent areas (7%).
The research found that Covid-19 has heightened problems as before the pandemic public wi-fi offered a safety net, with one in five people experiencing data poverty regularly using wi-fi in public libraries.
Researchers said that Covid-19 restrictions have resulted in the loss of public wi-fi accessed via shops, public transport, libraries and leisure facilities, reducing use of sources of public wi-fi by as much as a third of the pre-pandemic level.
Adam Lang, Head of Nesta in Scotland, said: “In our increasingly digitised and online world, ensuring that everyone has adequate, affordable and secure data to fulfil their essential needs is an increasingly urgent social, economic and moral priority.
“That almost one in seven adults in Scotland experience data poverty is deeply alarming and requires an urgent response.
“The pandemic has shown that access to the internet is essential for individuals and communities. Many vital services such as education, social security, health and work are now online.
“Those who cannot access enough data for their needs are increasingly excluded from services, work, community participation and social engagement – that’s not good enough.”
Researchers found that those out of work, people with disabilities, adults who feel less confident reading in English, adults who live with children and those in larger households are also more likely to experience data poverty.
Financial and digital literacy was found to be an issue with half of those experiencing data poverty saying they don’t know how to shop around for the best data deals.
The survey is part of a joint research project from Nesta teams in Scotland and Wales.
It was carried out by Survation on behalf of Nesta using a representative population sample of 1006 adults in Scotland and 1002 adults in Wales between January 15 and February 6 2021.
Both reports explore solutions to help tackle data poverty including helping people to get the best data deals, whether through action from providers or regulators or financial and digital literacy support, and data sharing or gifting.
Gillian Fyfe, Citizens Advice Scotland’s (CAB) Strategic Lead for Strong Communities, said: “This is important research which mirrors the evidence that we see from Scotland’s CAB network.
“There are too many households that are unable to access digital services and are being left behind.”