Reliance on digital technology to communicate is an essential part of most people’s lives, and even more vital during the Covid-19 pandemic, the report states.
However, many people have little or no access to this kind of technology, and often these same people also face significant social and health inequalities.
The research began with BT, another partner in the project, donating smartphones, SIM cards and data bundles for the study. Findings were based on interviews with 27 survivors of modern slavery, survivor wellbeing questionnaires, and survey responses from 12 Unseen staff who support survivors.
“I think it’s mainly for social media cos I’m a single mum,” said one survivor. “… it helps me to catch up with friends online or watch funny videos, forget what is going on around me and I’m not just moody all day.”
Says Kate Garbers, one of the report’s authors: “Unseen had long felt that digital exclusion was a real issue among survivors being supported.
“A practical solution to this issue was offered by BT and enabled Unseen to offer survivors smartphones and internet access.
“Both Unseen and BT wanted to understand the impact that access to technology had for survivors and partnering with Bristol University was a perfect opportunity to gather data and first-hand accounts in relation to the impact this intervention had.
“We hope the report will also be used as evidence by people and organisations supporting other vulnerable groups in our society.”
The project examined the impact of mobile technology access on this group, in terms of:
- mental health
- social connections
- ability to access services
- levels of independence and isolation.
The research concluded that getting online is extremely beneficial to survivors’ wellbeing in normal times. In the pandemic such access was essential in providing a mechanism by which survivors could support themselves at a time when face-to-face support was severely limited.