The government has set up a £2.5 million fund to provide devices, data and digital support to people with learning disabilities who can’t afford to get online.
The Digital Lifeline scheme will fund 5,000 internet tablets preloaded with data and free tech support for those facing digital exclusion through cost being a barrier to internet access, and increased social isolation caused by coronavirus.
As well as the devices and data, delivery partners will get a grant of £100 for every person they support. The minimum is 10 people + a grant of £1,000. More than 10 devices/£1,000 may be available to a single delivery partner, depending on demand.
The deadline for applications is 12pm on Friday 15 March, and there are two webinars to provide more information about the programme and answer any questions: 10am on Tuesday 2 March (today) and 2pm on Wednesday 10 March. Recent ONS data found three in four people with a learning disability believe their wellbeing has been affected by the impact of coronavirus, compared with 37% of non-disabled people.
Digital Minister Caroline Dinenage said:
“The pandemic has been incredibly tough for disabled people who have struggled to get online for basic things like catching up with loved ones.
“The Digital Lifeline fund will tackle this divide head on by putting thousands of devices in the hands of those who need them most, with free data and tech support on standby to help people with learning disabilities.”
The first devices will be delivered from this month (March) and form part of a package of measures the government has taken to support disabled people during the pandemic, including making £4.6 billion available to local authorities to ease pressures on local services including adult social care and giving £1.2 million to seven learning disability and autism charities.
The government is working on the project with digital inclusion charities Good Things Foundation and AbilityNet. AbilityNet will support the Digital Lifeline fund by providing tech advice on assistive technologies and accessibility assessments for individuals with multiple and/or profound disabilities. Good Things Foundation will provide support and guidance for the local organisations to help them distribute the devices safely and securely.
Funding will also be provided for local organisations to provide support to help recipients learn how to use their device safely and confidently.
Gary Moore, CEO of AbilityNet, said:
“Covid has shown how access to technology is a vital part of an independent and fulfilling life for everyone in the community.
“AbilityNet has been helping disabled people harness the power of tech for over 20 years and the Digital Lifeline project offers a wonderful opportunity to help people with learning disabilities get their hands on tech which will transform their lives.”
Helen Milner, CEO of Good Things Foundation, added:
“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to highlight just how essential being online is for day-to-day living. But millions of people are still on the wrong side of the digital divide. People with learning disabilities face even more challenges. Staying connected is an essential lifeline they depend on and must not do without.”