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Policy Watch

An eye on policy changes in Ireland, the UK and beyond

Digital Gender Gap | Digital Rights and Inequality | Value for Money in NI

Digital Rights  |  Mon Jun 28 2021

The World Bank, reviewing the Covid-19 vaccine supply chain worldwide, warned that "the digital divide, if unaddressed, has a risk of widening the vaccine divide, potentially leading to negative health outcomes".  Digital access, it found, helps health authorities plan by identifying priority groups, sending invitations, and arranging transport for people who need it. It facilitates vaccine roll-out by enabling people to access information about the national and local vaccine campaigns, check eligibility, register for vaccination, and schedule follow-up appointments. A reported 15% of US households had difficulty paying for broadband due to the pandemic, according to the Pew Research Center, rising to over a third amongst households earning less than $30,000/yr.

Globally, the UN's International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported a digital gender gap in regions across the world and raised concerns about its impact on women's access to healthcare, education, work, and financial independence. Meanwhile, new reporting from countries like Argentina illustrates how the school lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic have a hugely different impact on students depending on their income and, by extension, their digital connectivity.  One in four primary school students in poor communities in the country dropped out of school altogether at some point in 2020 - one in ten of them permanently - sparking calls for public investment in digital infrastructure available to all.

The NI Audit Office investigation into two projects funded by the Department for the Economy -- the Northern Ireland Broadband Investment Programme (NIBIP) and the Superfast Rollout Programme (SRP2) -- found that it is not possible to verify if they achieved value for money. The projects received £35.1m in public funding. NI's Comptroller and Auditor said, "the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus our increasing reliance on the internet to communicate, work, learn and shop. Many in Northern Ireland have faced COVID-19 lockdowns with inadequate access to broadband services, and while any improvement in broadband infrastructure is to be welcome, my report raises significant issues.”

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