Liam McAvoy, Senior Director of Business Development at Hyperoptic, explains how the social housing sector can capitalise on an increasingly connected world to deliver the maximum benefit to communities…
The UK government thinks of ‘social value’ in the context of economic, social, and environmental wellbeing through public services contracts. It was best expressed via the 2013 Public Services Act, which mandates those commissioning public services to think about how they can also secure wider social, economic, and environmental services when making purchasing decisions.
It appears to have had some success. Research last year from Social Enterprise UK states that 82% of local councils believe social value drives higher levels of growth, while 42% of councils have found that it has reduced social inequalities.
And as many of us already know, it is not just local authorities that use it; social value calculations are also embedded into project calculations from social housing organisations as well as central and devolved governments.
Applying social value to broadband
We are all acutely aware that having the highest broadband possible adds value to our lives, and to the housing sector generally, with some 62% saying they would consider paying more for a home with superfast broadband. But the aim with social value is to think more widely and ascertain the multiplier effect that Gigabit broadband has on the ability to transform an entire area.
Firstly, what is the economic impact it can have on businesses, consumers, and their finances? Second, what is its social impact on communities including its impact on individuals’ wellbeing?
“Superfast broadband boosts wellbeing by over £200 per household per year”
To take social impact first, Hyperoptic asked Simetrica, a research consultancy specialising in social impact measurement to look at various factors. The key finding reveals that having access to superfast broadband is associated with an increase in wellbeing worth £222.25 per household per year.
The study suggested several channels through which this could occur, and indeed, with our current adjustment to a ‘new normal’, many have become even more apparent.
Let’s look at educational opportunities. As we have already seen with home schooling, broadband with higher bandwidth allows users to access information with less disruption. But even before the pandemic, there had already been a recent proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) unlocked by wider access to fast broadband, with universities increasingly driving this trend.
We are all aware that the likes of Netflix massively open our entertainment options, but the simple fact is that faster broadband makes them more reliable and immersive via higher definition content.
The same is true for online gaming. Reliability also helps reduced isolation and loneliness since it means we can more easily connect with others through the internet via social media and other similar platforms.
It can also offer us increased lower prices and better shopping experiences; we are far more likely to wade through price comparison websites if the pages load quicker.
Remote working and eHealth
Again, the pandemic is shining a light on many of the economic benefits of high-speed broadband. e-health services were already well-established but have taken off since March, with one study estimating that if 5% of GP appointments were replaced with teleconferencing, each user would save 3.3 hours per year.
Remote working is now firmly part of everyday working for many, and some of us will never return to a five-day per week commute. This potentially means more time for other, more fulfilling activities and financial benefits through a reduction in travel costs and less pollution on the roads.
Broadband companies are also actively involved in ensuring economic benefits accrue to all. When a subsidised connection (either an affordable or a complimentary connection) is provided, there is often an economic transfer from a high-speed broadband provider to the disadvantaged households.
Local authorities can administer the distribution of affordable-connection vouchers, ensuring discounts effectively reach individuals who would benefit most from them.
Boosting digital inclusion
The greater benefit from enhanced digital infrastructure arguably occurs over a longer period. For instance, better broadband tends to mean people use the Internet more and enhance their computer skills which can increase wellbeing by £1,408.24 per year as well as boost their long-term job prospects.
Many housing organisations are actively involved in this process by facilitating community ‘hubs’ as community centres – not just providing the broadband but working with third parties to provide training. Such initiatives can be hugely beneficial and act as a lifeline for many people.
Hyperoptic has worked with Simetrica to highlight these advantages via a Social Value ‘calculator’. This provides a bespoke calculation of social value to a particular area and circumstances for a truly accurate overview of the value hyperfast broadband can bring to communities.
Using our calculator, the analysis shows we have created £39m of social value through by our deployments with our London borough partnerships alone.
Main image: Liam McAvoy, Senior Director of Business Development, Hyperoptic
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