Thousands of care leavers in England are unable to access education, work or to keep in touch with others because they lack internet connectivity, a group of youth charities have warned.
In an open letter to ministers, leading charities and youth organisations say the coronavirus lockdown has further highlighted how widespread the issue is.
The organisations say 80,000 care leavers aged 18-25 are not digitally connected and cannot afford to pay for wifi or data, and have called on the Government to do more to help those left digitally isolated by coronavirus restrictions.
The groups have asked the Government to extend and improve update of a scheme designed to provide devices and internet to all care leavers and to ensure every care leaver in England has a device and internet access for at least a year when they first live independently.
They also recommend that all local offers for care leavers include the right to a digital device and internet access.
Alongside the open letter, the Care Leavers National Movement (CLNM) has created a petition calling for more digital access for care leavers and hope to secure enough signatures to earn a debate in Parliament.
“Digital poverty is not just about teenagers and those leaving care getting free internet and devices as many will think,” CLNM chair Luke Fox said.
“Everything uses the internet in this generation, and it’s only becoming more advanced and integral. Running a home, having a career, a social life and everything in between has become almost dependent on having this connection and types of devices.
“That is the reason for the campaign, we want care leavers to have the same chances and success as those who were not in care. Is that too much to ask?”
Chris Wright, chief executive of Catch22, one of the organisations behind the open letter, said having access to an internet connection had been a “lifeline” for many care leavers during the pandemic.
“With the scheme ending and Covid-19 restrictions tightening again, there is a real danger of young care leavers slipping back into digital poverty in the coming months and beyond,” he said.
“We cannot afford to let the digital divide become even wider. We urge Government not to desert these young people, and to keep them connected. Digital access must be seen as a right, not a privilege.”
Mark Warr, chief executive of The National House Project added: “Digital poverty is not just a here and now issue. Care leavers can’t afford the devices, wifi and data that keep them connected to the world.
“As parents we make sure that our children have the things they need to make their way in life.
“Care leavers are our children and we have a moral obligation to ensure that they have the same access to education, job opportunities and contact with friends and family as everyone else – and that means being digitally connected.
“Digital connection must form part of the leaving care offer if these young people are to have the same life chances as everyone else.”