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Breaking Data Poverty

British Telecom Giant Helps Empower Port Talbot Community with Free SIM Cards


In a bid to confront the inequalities created by digital exclusion and the resulting data poverty, British multinational telecom giant Vodafone has joined forces with the Third Sector to help overcome the problems in a Port Talbot school community.


Need - Wales

Poverty has serious consequences for life chances. According to a 2018 Save the Children funded survey by Loughborough University, Wales has the worst child poverty in the UK, with around 200,000, 1 in 3 of the total, suffering socio-economic disadvantage. This is further exacerbated by the fact that 90,000 of these children (14%) are living in severe poverty (i.e. in households at or below 50% of median income). The survey also clearly highlights that, in contrast to other Home Nations, the situation in Wales is worsening not improving.


‘All the evidence shows that after twenty years of devolution, we haven’t broken that cycle of deprivation and cycle of poverty, and so we are seeing successive generations of young people coming through these communities, suffering the same kind of disadvantage that their parents and grandparents faced’ -  (David Hagendyk, Director of Learning and Work Institute Cymru)


Need - Neath Port Talbot County Borough

Neath Port Talbot (NPT) is one of 22 Principal Areas of Local Government in Wales; with a population of c.142,289 (2021) it is the 8th most populated local authority.


According to the 2019 Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD) report, NPT has the highest proportion of Lower Local Super Output Areas (LLSOAs) in the most deprived 50% in Wales, 13.2% of which feature in the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivations’s top 10% areas of highest deprivation. Nine of its 42 electoral wards (23%) are among the country’s most deprived.


In NPT, the greatest concentrations of deprivation according to the WIMD and reported in the UK Shared Prosperity Fund’s Investment Plan for South West Wales (2023), are in the Sandfields (East & West) and the Aberavon electoral wards.


The County Borough has the 2nd highest free school meal entitlement (23.8%) in Wales and one of the highest rates of permanent exclusion. Year 13 pupils leaving school and not in full time employment, full time education or work based training, is much higher than the rest of the country. In NPT 25% of all households are workless and 25% are in fuel poverty; of the potential workforce, 31% are classed as having no qualification of any sort.


With pay levels below the national average, soaring ill health statistics, lack of job opportunities, child poverty and life expectancy lower than the rest of Wales (Public Health Wales), according to the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think tank analysis, NPT and the Sandfields area is among the areas of worst deprivation in the UK.


The Covid-19 pandemic created an extraordinary set of circumstances. An unprecedented disruption alongside the pandemic’s speed, allied to the current cost of living crisis, rising energy and food costs has left those already extremely vulnerable to its effects, in an even worse position.

Overall, Port Talbot and especially the Sandfields and Aberavon ward areas are larger and smaller sub communities blighted by high unemployment and poverty.


Life in Port Talbot is further complicated by being the most polluted town in Wales, principally because of the emissions from Port Talbot steelworks, which is the UK’s single largest emitter of CO2, whose carbon output equals 15% of the entire output of Wales and is greater than that generated by Swansea, the country’s second largest city some 13 km west.


As part of the transition to cheaper, more environmentally friendly production and to safeguard  the future of steel production in Wales, Tata has announced that it will cut up to 2,800 jobs in the next 18 months. Some 1,929 jobs (49.98%) of a total workforce of 3,859 will be lost in Port Talbot. These added to the supply chain job losses will have a catastrophic impact on the local economy as well as reverberating across the M4 corridor and beyond.


St.Therese’s Catholic Primary School


 Based in Port Talbot’s Sandfields (west) area and officially opened in September 1960, St Therese’s has a total pupil roll across Nursery, Infants and Juniors of 236. With 30.6% of the pupils qualifying for free school meals and 19.4% having Additional Learning Needs, its problems are obvious. Despite this, with the appointment of current Headteacher in September 2022, it received a very favourable inspection report from Estyn (Education and Training Inspectorate for Wales) in June 2023, that praised the school’s leadership and the care and compassion of its staff.


In September 2022 Ofcom confirmed that an estimated 8 million UK households were choosing to step back from broadband and digital bills to save money. The school believes that digital access has to be regarded as an essential utility in the same way that the need for gas and electricity is considered.


Commenting on the donation of 100 SIM cards from Vodafone and the Goods For Good Charity, School Headteacher Ruth Lewis said, ‘Data poverty discriminates against those in the lower income bracket, like so many families with pupils at this school, the rising cost of living, the cost of connectivity and the impact of the upcoming raft of redundancies announced by Tata, the area’s largest employer, are major concerns - a scheme like this is therefore of real help and enormous benefit to our pupils and their families. Those who need to get online will now be able to do so, in order to take advantage and benefit from the opportunities the internet and other digital technologies provide’.


‘I know that the development of digital skills improves social cohesion, leads to greater economic opportunities and a more equal society. This is not possible if pupils and their families are digitally excluded due to the rising cost of living preventing their ability to get online. On behalf of the school, our staff, our pupils and their families, we are very grateful for this donation and wish to thank Vodafone, Goods For Good and A2B CIC for including us in their plans’


A spokesman for A2B CIC said, ‘While great strides have been made in Wales, recent digital surveys by Lloyds Bank show that Wales still lags behind all other UK regions and nations in producing a workforce with high digital capabilities - 7% of people in Wales are not online and 18% of people in social housing still lack internet access. We consider digital access to be a basic human right not a privilege and our aim is to support our community in its bid to eradicate data poverty and improve the level of its digital skills in its schools’.

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