A kid on a laptop

Millions do not meet minimum standard for digital social inclusion

Nearly four million households with children in the UK do not meet the Minimum Digital Living Standard (MDLS), according to new research.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool, Loughborough University, City University, Good Things Foundation and Critical Research conducted a UK-wide survey which found that 3.7 million (4 in 10) households with children in the UK do not meet MDLS.

The definition of Minimum Digital Living Standard  is:

A minimum digital standard of living includes, but is more than, having accessible internet, adequate equipment, and the skills, knowledge, and support people need. It is about being able to communicate, connect, and engage with opportunities safely and with confidence.

MDLS sets out a basket of goods services and skills that families need to be digitally included and why this is so vital for parents, children and young people who rely on it for so many different things including schoolwork, home-school communication, accessing services, socialising and keeping in touch.

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, Nominet and the Welsh Government takes a holistic approach, highlighting the importance for families of having adequate devices and internet connection, as well as the skills necessary to be confident and safely included in today’s digital world.

Every item in the ‘basket’ was carefully deliberated through a series of focus groups with parents and young people, building on the well-established Minimum Income Standard methodology developed by Loughborough University.

The latest report on MDLS, published on Monday 18 March, found that poverty was a significant barrier to MDLS. The main predictors of failing to meet MDLS are low socio-economic status, living in a deprived area, being a single-parent household, a household with more than two children, a household led by someone with disability and/or with non-white ethnicity.

Researchers found that digital safety is a key part of MDLS with the survey showing that 27% of households have parents missing the critical skills for understanding and managing digital risk.

The report set out several key policy priorities for governments at all levels to help families falling below the MDLS including Ofcom, industry and government working to find ways to make essential online public and health services free of data charges and working with schools to review curricula for digital skills.

Katherine Hill, Research Fellow, at the Centre for Research in Social Policy, Loughborough University, said “We know how much we rely on technology these days, and how vital it is for families. That’s why the voices of parents and young people are at the heart of this research telling us what they think families need to be included and not left behind.

"Too many families face not having a working phone or laptop, running out of mobile data, having to decide between paying for broadband or other essentials, and worries about being scammed or worse – this is more than just an inconvenience, it affects participation in everyday life, wellbeing and future opportunities. Parents we spoke to felt that digital connection should be seen as a human right in today’s world.”

Simeon Yates, Professor of Digital Culture from the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Liverpool said: “Our holistic research has shown that now, more than ever, it is crucial that digital inclusion is a cross-cutting government priority for the millions of families that don’t meet the MDLS.”

You can read and download the full report on MDLS here: Publications – Minimum Digital Living (mdls.org.uk)

You can read a Guardian article, detailing the MDLS here: Nearly half of UK families excluded from modern digital society, study finds | Digital Britain | The Guardian



Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 24/38

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines. 

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme and named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2023 QS World University Rankings – the seventh year running. 

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