digital divide social mobility - Multiracial people group and urban friends using mobile phone

How Can Businesses Tackle the Digital Divide to Drive Social Mobility?

By Guy Miller, CEO, MS3 Networks

Having the means to engage effectively online is key in improving education and employment opportunities for those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, but is becoming increasingly difficult amid the cost-of-living crisis. Here, Guy Miller, CEO of full fibre network operator MS3 Networks, explores the digital divide’s negative impact on social mobility, and how businesses can tackle it.

Limited internet users are five times more likely than extensive users to be from a low-income household, according to 2023 data from Good Things Foundation. However, having the means to engage effectively online is key in improving education and employment opportunities for those from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Social mobility in the UK, which refers to the ability of individuals or households to move between different levels of society, is at its lowest rate in 50 years. While the reasons behind this phenomenon are complex, inequal access to digital technologies — known as the digital divide — places barriers between low-income people and education and employment opportunities.

For example, over a quarter of low-income adults only go online using a smartphone, limiting their ability to perform tasks such as writing CVs and completing job applications. Even for non-computer-based jobs, having access to digital technologies can have a positive impact, with data from Good Things Foundation showing that highly digitally engaged manual workers earn on average £5,000 more than their counterparts who are limited users.

Further research from consulting firm PwC shows that 28 per cent of those surveyed believe that responsibility for social mobility lies with the business community. So, how can businesses alleviate the digital divide and drive social mobility?

Encouraging digital education

With one in five unemployed limited internet users unable to perform any essential workplace tasks, businesses could look to provide digital skills building sessions for their local communities.

Additionally, PwC research shows that by developing outreach programmes for young people, businesses allow them to digitally upskill, making it easier to access future job opportunities requiring digital capabilities.

Donating old devices 

For digitally excluded people, community hubs offer an excellent resource to learn how to engage online, as well as use the internet for employment or education purposes. However, almost seven in ten of these hubs have a device shortage, limiting their ability to support beneficiaries.

By passing unused tech devices such as laptops onto these community centres, businesses not only help close the digital divide, but also avoid high levels of electronic waste. Options to donate include local authority schemes and through the National Device Bank, which distributes unwanted tech to its network of digital inclusion centres.

Increasing internet access

To ensure improved digital inclusion for low-income households, the creation of broadband packages that are both fast and affordable is essential.

A 2023 UK Government report highlighted the importance of fast connectivity in encouraging social mobility. However, as ultrafast internet access becomes increasingly important, it is also becoming out of reach for low-income households, with one million people cancelling their internet subscriptions in 2022. Although social tariffs provide a more affordable option, uptake from Universal Credit households sits at around five per cent, with Ofcom data showing many choose not to switch due to perceived slow speeds.

Broadband network operators can play a key role in improving access by building infrastructure that offers speeds in line with the UK Government’s goal for one Gigabit per second (Gbps) speeds to be available to 99 per cent of UK premises by 2030.

By creating a network of internet service provider (ISP) partners, through which customers connect to the network, to increase choice and in turn affordability. Additionally, to ensure that those who previously had to sacrifice speed for affordability can access the services, network operators should consider offering a subsidised tariff to partners, so that these savings can be passed to the end customer.

As the digital divide deepens, so does the gap between the most and least privileged in society. By taking action to promote digital inclusion, businesses can help open opportunities for the most disadvantaged members of their communities.

To learn about MS3’s work across the North of England and how its wholesale service operates, or visit

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