For those of us with data at our fingertips, staying connected to our loved ones, keeping up to date with social media and news and accessing basic services is something we take for granted. But data poverty can take that away, making our worlds much smaller and more frustrating. And it’s getting worse for even more people as winter sets in and the cost-of-living crisis bites.
That’s why data poverty – where some people don’t have access or ability to use the internet – is a major concern in the UK. The issue is becoming more pressing as society’s move to digital continues at full speed. Accelerated by the pandemic, access to banks, jobs, government services and GP appointments are now digital-first – yet two million households don’t have access to the internet (Ofcom 2022), so are locked out of the system.
Like a food bank, but with internet dished out
That’s why last year, O2 joined forces with the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation to set up the National Databank, to put the power of free mobile internet data in the hands of those who need it the most. Think of it like a food bank, but with internet data dished out instead. Today, the National Databank offers free data to those in need through 773 local organisations across the UK, and aims to help 500,000 people by Christmas 2025.
The momentum began last Christmas, when O2 donated 10GB for every purchase, culminating in a massive 61 million GB being donated to support those without internet access. As part of the scheme, The Big Issue, together with O2 helped 200 vendors stay better connected by offering them free sims and data. In the UK, nine out of 10 in-person transactions are via contactless now, so it allowed vendors to sell The Big Issue via contactless payments. Stevie Paterson from Edinburgh was one of The Big Issue vendors given this lifeline. He explains: “The sim was really important to me. It meant I could set myself up on Zettle to accept contactless payments – now, it’s how I sell about half my magazines.”
Because a full life is about more than earning money, sports fan Paterson also uses his data to keep tabs on the latest football, darts and snooker scores, and to stay connected with his mum, dad and sister on a daily basis, which helps to keep that family bond tight.
The sim was really important to me. It meant I could set myself up on Zettle to accept contactless payments – now, it’s how I sell about half my magazines.Stevie Paterson, Big Issue vendor
Crucial first steps in a digital world
For other vendors, getting the free data prompted those crucial first steps in the digital world.