Siobhain McDonagh MP


Siobhain McDonagh MP

Job Title

Labour Member of Parliament for Mitcham and Morden

Article Published on

Nov '23

Parliamentary Tech Champion

I hear every week of the impact that a lack of broadband connectivity has on people’s lives across the country

As an Officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Data Poverty I hear every week of the impact that a lack of broadband connectivity has on people’s lives across the country. The technological advance in our society and the reliance that we all now have on the internet is indisputable. Whether it is for work, entertainment, shopping, bills or even connecting to our friends and family through social media or video calls, the internet has changed every part of everybody’s life – or at least almost everybody’s life.

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted many injustices and inequalities in our society. One new but unsurprising problem of the lockdowns, at least for those of us familiar with this policy area, was our need for high speed and stable internet access. Our children in particular were suddenly required to sit for hours a day in front of screens in order to continue their schooling.

The response across the country was patchy and inconsistent, resulting in one in five children not always having access to a device for online learning while schools were closed. Indeed, the eventual roll-out of devices was nothing short of shambolic: just 5% of teachers in state schools reported that all their students had a device, compared with 54% at private schools. Furthermore, once devices were distributed, 880,000 children were in households with only a mobile internet connection. This only served to widen the attainment gap between the richest and poorest students, the haves and the have nots.  

And while Covid-19 has faded as an immediate disruptor in the lives of most, the cost-of-living crisis has replaced it as the next big economic and social threat to face this country. In May, Citizens Advice found that those on universal credit were six times more likely to have stopped their broadband in the last 12 months. In total, over one million people cut off their broadband in the last year. This demonstrates that, once again, those on the lowest incomes are the first to face the sharp end of these problems.

I feel deeply the need to address this. That is why I am pleased to leading a group of cross-party colleagues, some of whom are also Nash Squared tech Champions, in bringing a Private Members Bill before Parliament to place a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that all children eligible for free school meals have a broadband connection and facilities to access the internet at home.

We know that children on the wrong side of the digital divide are now even more disadvantaged than before. A bill such as this would, I believe, make a start towards bridging that divide which is consistently shown to be drawn along lines of parental income. We must address this as a way to not only ensure all young people have equitable access to education, but also to create a society in which we can all develop the skills and capabilities that will see us through education and beyond to meet the exciting opportunities of the new global digital economy.

About the author

Siobhain McDonagh is the Labour Member of Parliament for Mitcham and Morden and Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Media Literacy. She is also an Officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups for Data Poverty and Digital Skills.

More Parliamentary Tech Champions

Each month we invite a leading member of the UK’s parliament to share their thoughts on technology and innovation in the UK.

We're ready to help you build a limitless future