A new £5 million programme will offer an internet connection, training and support, and a laptop or tablet to vulnerable people who are not already online during the response to coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Connecting Scotland programme will connect 9,000 more people who are considered at clinically high risk themselves so they can access services and support and connect with friends and family during the pandemic.
Those who take part in the programme will be paired with a ‘digital champion’ to support them for six months while they get connected and find the information they need.
Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said:
“Access to the internet is a real lifeline during these difficult times, so we want to support people to get online and stay connected through this project.
“The advice is clear that we need to stay at home, but for those shielding and in a high risk group, and not online, we know this is difficult and can increase isolation and loneliness at a time they already feel vulnerable and might be missing other support.
“The internet helps us to keep in touch with friends and family and is an important way to find information on support services during this challenging time. This £5 million investment will bring 9,000 more people online over the coming months, and help people best manage the impact that coronavirus is having on their lives.”
Local authorities and the third sector will lead on identifying people to receive devices, distributing them and providing training and support.
SCVO Chief Executive Anna Fowlie said:
“For most of us, technology has played a crucial role in keeping us connected to friends and family, informed and entertained, and able to continue with learning and work. However, there are people that can’t access the benefits of being online because of the affordability of kit and connectivity, or the confidence and skills to be able to use technology effectively. This additional investment will go a long way towards reducing that digital divide and ensuring everyone can benefit from being online.”
Councillor Gail Macgregor, COSLA’s Resources Spokesperson said:
“Ensuring that our communities are connected is essential to our response to tackling coronavirus, and COSLA welcomes the positive role that this programme will have in getting people online in the coming weeks and months.”
“Local Government has been at the forefront of efforts to tackle digital exclusion and is ideally placed to understand the significant challenges that it presents, particularly to the most vulnerable. That is why we are working closely with Scottish Government and third sector partners to deliver on this programme.”
The Connecting Scotland project is being delivered by the Scottish Government, in partnership with local authorities, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and the digital and IT sectors led by ScotlandIS. It is also supported by Microsoft, Leidos, the Data Lab, Accenture and Gartner.
Eligible digitally excluded people will be identified by local authorities and third sector organisations and offered a device with a mobile internet data package, which will be delivered to their homes. A ‘digital champion’ will provide phone and online support for an initial period of six months – after which the project will be evaluated to assess support needed longer term. Training and support for digital champions is being coordinated by SCVO, and will be delivered through local authorities and third sector bodies.
In advance of the roll out of the main programme, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) trialled the approach with Glasgow Disability Alliance and Govan Housing Association tenants.
Case study: Kate*, 63, from Glasgow
Kate has recently recovered from a confirmed case of COVID-19. She has been supported by Glasgow Disability Alliance throughout this period, including grocery drops to help keep her going while she recovers.
Kate was a full-time carer for her late husband and never thought about going online previously, focusing her time and energy on her caring role. She’s now starting her journey to get online to help her stay more connected with friends and family. When she was recovering from COVID-19 her friend phoned her to tell her about a group video call with other GDA members where they all chatted and sent their best wishes to Kate for a speedy recovery:
“It means I can go online and see my son and my grandchildren who live in Sussex and to talk to my friends from GDA. They’ve all kept in touch with me. When I had the Coronavirus, they all said hello on other people’s tablets, and they phoned me and told me, so I was really happy about that, but of course I couldn’t see it because I didn’t have a tablet.”
Kate is excited to start using her tablet and develop her confidence:
“I’m absolutely thrilled to get a device. When you’re isolated, you’ve got nobody. I think it’s a good idea for isolated people to have a tablet. To be isolated with this coronavirus, all we’ve got to the outside world is a phone and a tablet. I can’t thank you enough.
My life will change, definitely. I’m determined to learn it and get online. I should’ve done it years ago. You always say, ‘I’m going to do this and that’, but I’m going to do it now. I was a full-time carer for my husband. I didn’t have time for myself, and that’s why I never went to any classes or anything. But now, I’ll definitely do it and get it done.”
*name has been changed to protect identity