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Cornwall Council to lend laptops to the homeless

Partnership with the St Petrocs charity launches initiative to tackle the digital divide

A homeless man on the street

Homeless people, and others below the digital divide, in Cornwall, are to be lent laptops and tablets by the local council.

It's part of an initiative from Cornwall Council and the homeless charity St Petrocs to prevent people from being "left behind" as more services become digitised, according to a BBC report. 

Council cabinet member, Richard Pears, said the authority was keen to work with more partners on the scheme, adding that any organisation was eligible to apply. As well as lending devices, St Petrocs would provide training to people it was supporting, according to the council.

"A lot of our clients don't have access to IT," said Melissa Winstanley, St Petrocs vocational development administrator. "They want to be able to enhance their skills, which going forward will help them find suitable courses and progress into suitable work."

Access to digital services for work, education, and even simple life administration has become increasingly difficult for certain parts of the UK's population that cannot afford hardware or broadband. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic with more of these services moving online. 

Cornwall Council said about 13% of its residents, and those in the Isles of Scilly had never used the internet, and a quarter of adults lacked basic digital skills, as of 2019. The council said its digital inclusion team had trained six St Petrocs staff to help with the technology and with around 70 devices currently available. 

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"As training, healthcare, and other services are increasingly going online, it's vital they are not left behind," the council said.

The issue of adult access to the internet has been repeatedly pointed out to the UK's government, with the Good Things Foundation calling for more support in January. Helen Milner, the chief executive of the social change charity, told IT Pro that the government had "not invested a single pound to adults below the digital divide". 

"The government has done quite a lot around the child part of the digital divide," Milner said. "But for adults, the government have not invested a single extra pound on adult digital inclusion, be that around devices, or be that around skills."

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