Data Poverty in Scotland and Wales

COVID-19 exposed a divide between those who have data to spare and those who struggle to afford it. This report explores data poverty in Scotland and Wales.

During 2020, Nesta became aware that COVID-19 has exposed a new digital divide between those who have data to spare and those who struggle to afford the data they need for essential tasks. In our initial discovery research, we set out a working definition of data poverty:

By data poverty, we mean those individuals, households or communities who cannot afford sufficient, private and secure mobile or broadband data to meet their essential needs.

We heard of many people who were struggling to get online, but we found a lack of detailed information to quantify the scale and depth of data poverty. This report seeks to fill that gap. With the help of Survation, Nesta commissioned demographically representative polling of over 2,000 people in Scotland and Wales in late January 2021. Using telephone interviews, we asked a representative sample of adults in each nation about barriers to going online and whether they were experiencing data poverty. We then interviewed people in Wales and Scotland struggling to afford the data access they needed, adding the human story to the survey findings in a series of case studies. This is the first study that we know of to attempt to describe the depth and extent of data poverty.

Key Findings

  • One in seven adults in Scotland and Wales are experiencing data poverty: Nearly a million adults in Scotland and Wales struggle to afford sufficient, private and secure access to the internet.
  • Data poverty widens inequalities: Not going online impedes life chances, increases social isolation, impacts on wellbeing and limits economic opportunities.
  • Connected but compromised: Individuals’ and families’ needs for data are often not adequately met. One in ten people with monthly mobile contracts regularly run out of data before the end of the month and larger households struggle to meet very high data needs.
  • Financial and data literacy compounds data poverty: Only about half of the people we spoke to felt they were able to shop around for the best data deals. People with low digital and financial literacy and weak purchasing power may not realise that better deals are available to them. Our case studies highlight the high costs of exceeding contract allowances.


Dr Patricia J Lucas

Patricia Lucas is a social researcher with a particular interest in child health inequalities and evidence for policy. She divides her time between independent work, leading rapid soci…

Rosa Robinson

Rosa Robinson is a social researcher whose work addresses a range of social inequalities. She is director of Frame Collective CIC.

Lizzy Treacy

Lizzy Treacy is a Scotland based engagement practitioner and facilitator, with significant experience of working across inequalities issues with marginalised, deprived and vulnerable g…