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The hidden part of the cost of living crisis

by Gillian Fyfe, CAS Strategic policy lead (Strong Communities team).

This article was first published in the herald on 19 September 2022.


The word ‘crisis’ has been thrown around a lot in recent years, almost to the point that we are overly comfortable with living through crisis after crisis. We’ve had pandemics, oil and gas price hikes, and now we have a cost of living crisis that will certainly cause misery for many throughout the country.

All across the regulated markets we’ve seen prices hiked. Rents have increased, interest rates have soared, and household expenditure has risen alongside everything else. Many people will be thinking about or are already cutting their energy usage, cancelling a TV package or disconnecting their internet. All because these essential services are becoming unaffordable.

CAS has been working for the consumer interest within the telecoms market for a number of years. Throughout each crisis, including the pandemic, we’ve been banging the drum about how important it is that everyone has an accessible and affordable connection to the internet. This is more important now than ever: with so many essential services requiring internet access it is worrying that so many people struggle to afford online connections.

Recent polling undertaken by YouGov on behalf of CAS shows that 15% of those in Scotland who ran out of money before payday in the past year had gone without internet access once or more. This amounts to almost 240,000 people. While hikes to energy and other prices might create bigger headlines, this remains a troubling issue.

Consider if some of those people are jobseekers, or making a claim for Universal Credit - all of which primarily has to be completed online. Where does this leave people? Often this is when they turn to a local CAB for help and advice, which any CAB is equipped and ready to provide. But this could almost be thought of as one of the hidden issues within the cost of living crisis. Even with a variety of social or targeted tariffs available in the broadband market, connection is still out of reach for many.

Taking this a step further, we know from previous research many clients seeking advice from the Citizens Advice network in Scotland only have access to the internet through a mobile device. Polling undertaken by YouGov on behalf of CAS shows that almost one in five (19%) Scottish people who run out of money before pay day have gone without mobile phone access once or more in the past year as result.

Think about the same people who may be seeking jobs or completing Universal Credit journals and need to do this online. Once more this is often where a CAB comes in to provide help and assistance. But with mobile phone use being so prominent in today’s society you would think this would be more affordable? The polling suggests differently. And with only one social or targeted tariff available in the mobile market, maybe it’s time for mobile providers to think about introducing more of these.

We are still in the midst of a cost of living crisis, and the costs of broadband and mobile contracts for consumers are not immune from this. But the good news is that our advice really does add up, so if you are struggling, the Citizens Advice network in Scotland is here to help, no matter what issue you are facing.