Cost of living crisis and how digital can help

Man using cashpointOn Tuesday 20 September 2022 at 1pm BST, Alex Barker Disability Consultant from AbilityNet, Laura Waller Digital Services and Inclusion Lead at Coventry City Council, and John Duncan Digital Inclusion Programme Manager at Greater Manchester Combined Authority, discussed how digital can help with the cost of living crisis we're all facing.

With the rapid rise in prices for essential living items such as water, staple foodstuffs and petrol, and with energy bills rising exponentially, we are all feeling the pinch. But, with a savvy digital approach there are key ways you can help make some valuable savings.

The webinar shares some hints and tips from experts, including outlining free digital tools and techniques available that can offer you fresh ideas for keeping costs as low as possible.

Cost of living crisis and how digital can help - AbilityNet webinar slides via SlideShare

What the webinar covered

  • AbilityNet's recommendations for digital support apps and tech, including financial apps for disabled people
  • Advice on how to make a decision about what tech may be right for you
  • An interactive Q&A session where attendees posed questions to the panellists

This webinar recording is likely to be useful to those who are concerned about rising costs and how to save money.

If you work in a supporting role at a charity or government, or public sector organisation to advise others about how to manage their finances, you will also find this session valuable.

Meet the panel

Virgin Media O2/ Greater Manchester Combined Authority

John Duncan, Smiling in London sceneJohn Duncan, Digital Inclusion Programme Manager at Greater Manchester Combined Authority is seconded from Virgin Media O2 Business to Greater Manchester, where he’s supporting the Authority’s ambitious plans to ensure fair and equal access to technology, connectivity and digital skills - regardless of age, background or situation. The focus of his role is supporting the development of a strategic approach and project delivery to end digital exclusion for under 25s, over 75s and disabled people; to help achieve the Mayor’s aim of a 100% digitally-enabled Greater Manchester.

John is also part of the Greater Manchester Digital Inclusion Taskforce, and Chair of the Greater Manchester Digital Inclusion Locality Leads group, which represents the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester. He also acts as a champion in communicating critical messages on digital inclusion to the local community and stakeholders.

Coventry City Council

Laura WallerLaura Waller is the Digital Services and Inclusion Lead at Coventry City Council, a new role to the local authority strategically developing sustainable digital inclusion programmes, aiming to take residents on the digital journey, helping them to not only access services, but to gain confidence in using technology in a way that helps them in their daily lives.
Laura is looking at innovative ways Coventry can embed digital inclusion initiatives within established services with a focus on the cost of living, working with both internal and external partners to remove barriers and improve supports for residents to become digitally enabled and connected.


Profile image of Alex Barker looking at the cameraAlex Barker has worked for AbilityNet for nearly 20 years and has recently become a Disability Consultant at the charity. Alex has Moebius Syndrome, a very rare condition that causes paralysis in facial muscles, club foot, missing limbs and sometimes cognitive issues too. So he understands a lot of the difficulties disabled people have when using technology.

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The slidedeck, recording and transcript is now available on this page. The Q&As are available below on this page.

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This webinar lasted 60 minutes and included an opportunity to pose questions to the guests. The panel were able to answer many questions from attendees during the live session, which you can find by watching the webinar playback or accessing the transcript. John's and Laura's Q&A responses will be available on this page soon. Here are some additional questions we weren't able to answer at the time:

Q: How independent are these comparison sites? Do companies pay to have their products reviewed?

Alex from AbilityNet: For the website has been created by volunteers and is paid for by sponsors. For the app Too Good To Go, I assume that shops and cafes must pay a small amount to be mentioned on the app. Major comparison sites tend to charge companies to be featured on them.

Q: Are these sites available across the UK?

Alex from AbilityNet: Yes. Too Good To Go is a nationwide app, you just put in your location and it will search for discounted food. compares food from leading supermarket chains across the UK (but not budget ones).

Q: Great resources...are these accessible online without downloading an app?

Alex from AbilityNet: All of them are accessible online apart from To Good To Go, which is app based.

Q: Is there any help for those of us who are housebound and rely on grocery deliveries?

Alex from AbilityNet: Unfortunately not yet! The price comparison sites only compare one item, and that item is branded. There’s no way of working out if your online shop is going to be cheaper at particular supermarkets.

Q: Would another way to help with the cost of living, be the ability to find or know where to find vouchers or discount codes (online or offline) for goods or services?

Alex from AbilityNet: has some useful online vouchers where you can save money. Just be warned though, that you might have to download an app. There are a few extensions that can be added to your web browser to help you search for coupons and discounts. For offline coupons, your local newspaper might be a good place to start, and although junk mail can be annoying, sometimes you’ll find great offers to save money, especially on takeaway food.

Q: Are there any national initiatives/resources that we can use to support disabled HE students going through cost of living issues?

Alex from AbilityNet: Save the Student has some great resources on how to save money. You can download the Totum app to save money on all sorts of products, such as clothing, right through to eating out. There might well be local discounts in your university town or city if you show your University ID Card. You’ll be able to get student discounts on public transport too, which you can check with your local transport provider for more information.

Q: John, can you please elaborate on the role of local authorities in coordinating efforts around digital inclusion?

John from Virgin Media O2/Greater Manchester Combined Authority: Yes of course. Within Greater Manchester we have helped to ensure that there is a Digital Inclusion focus and lead in each of the 10 local authorities, leveraging our political leadership to encourage this focus and a small amount of adult education budget funding. Councils have created their own digital strategies, which through our partnership relationships and Digital Inclusion focus has encouraged inclusion to be at the heart of them all. We host a monthly locality lead meeting (which I chair) to share best practice, learn about new projects and initiatives, and work collectively on GM wide projects, examples being the GM Databank and Care Leavers Project.

Q: How did John target companies/businesses to get involved with the initiatives? We are in an area which is mainly rural so don't have easy access to local large companies.

John from Virgin Media O2/Greater Manchester Combined Authority: We used our networks from across directorates within the combined authority (in particular the work and skills team and economic development), and engaged with relevant colleagues who were identified in large, medium, and small companies/organisations who had an interest in social value, and digital inclusion. We have encouraged businesses across GM with an interest in digital to join our Digital Inclusion Taskforce so they are aware of our ambitions and projects, and then they can offer their support to get involved. We are pleased that through this activity major companies such as Microsoft, Google, Lloyds, Barclays, Co-op, Huawei, and the major Telco’s have all got involved in our Taskforce, and in some cases our Digital Inclusion Action Network. Happy to have a one-to-one conversation about this if you like and see if we can help make connections in your area.

Q: Whilst in hospital recently I was chatting about their hesitation of going online and she said that it was down to the cost, explained that there are lots of companies offering the social tariffs. Are there plans of trying to raise awareness of the tariffs from internet service providers? I’ve watched adverts but there are still lots of people being missed.

John from Virgin Media O2/Greater Manchester Combined Authority: This is one of our biggest focuses, to encourage Telco’s to actively promote their social tariffs and more affordable packages. What we have done at GM is include all the Telco’s current offers/social tariffs in one place – on our Get Online Greater Manchester (GOGM) webpage. As part of our work with the Telco industry, we are challenging them to promote these social tariffs and offers further and make sure they are meeting their commitments to the DCMS (which I have put in my response below). Our social housing project is focused on doing exactly this, making sure that collaboratively with trusted voices backing up the Telco’s messaging (i.e. the social housing providers, local authorities, and local community groups such as age-friendly charities and disability groups) that social tariffs are made available to all who are entitled to them.

Q: The biggest barrier to digital exclusion is the financial ability to gain access to equipment and broadband - are there any national programs available to help with this?

John from Virgin Media O2/Greater Manchester Combined Authority: The biggest national programmes are those being led by the Good Things Foundation and supported by Virgin Media O2 (who have just contributed £2 million to the GTF) to have a sustainable National Databank and Device Bank which can be accessed via online centres across the UK. Vodafone and 3 mobile are also offering their support by donating data in to the National Databank. Talk Talk are offering a free broadband product in partnership with the DWP for job seekers.

From a broadband perspective rather than data, the Telcos’ have committed to the DCMS to: 

  • All providers commit to supporting their customers who may be struggling with the cost-of-living and to treat them with compassion, understanding and as individuals.
  • All providers commit to supporting customers struggling with their bills and to offer ways to keep them connected, such as allowing them to move to cheaper packages without charge or penalty, or agreeing manageable payment plans.
  • All operators commit to continue to protect the connectivity of their customers known to be vulnerable as a priority.
  • Providers - supported by the government - commit to take steps to raise awareness of low cost products to those claiming Universal Credit.
  • Mobile providers commit to considering more ways to help their customers, including exploring tariffs, options to improve existing low cost offers, and increasing promotion of existing deals.

At GMCA we are encouraging 5 Telcos in a pilot scheme to trial digital inclusive packages of support with a group of 5 social housing providers, driving them to offering affordable, flexible and sustainable offers, which encourage people to be online and stay online. We will report back to Ability Net on the outcome of this pilot and the outcomes this drives from the Telco partners – they are BT, VMO2, Vodafone, Talk Talk and Hyperoptic.

Q: Can mobile phones be provided through the scheme?

John from Virgin Media O2/Greater Manchester Combined Authority: At a GM level we are aware of mobile phones being donated via local authority and charity device donation activities, but the focus of our GM Tech Fund is for laptops and tablets to be donated to schools as they are more appropriate for learning. From a VMO2 perspective please check out the Community Calling Scheme which is rehousing used mobile devices across the UK.

Q: Are there any good resources for open-source, free software? The cost of antivirus, and word processing subs really adds up, and having a safe source of downloads could be really beneficial.

John from Virgin Media O2/Greater Manchester Combined Authority: Great question and I agree they would be very beneficial, but no I am not aware of any open source free software. However, with our GM Tech Fund we are encouraging the free addition of anti-virus and software licenses such as Microsoft Office to be included in the donation so the recipient does not have any additional costs to make when they receive the device.

Q: How many providers are specialising in helping people who are Neurodiverse - whether Dyslexic, ADHD, Dyspraxia, or Autistic. I am Autistic (Aspergers). Also Learning Disabilities? 

John from Virgin Media O2/Greater Manchester Combined Authority: I can’t speak for all providers I’m afraid but I can share Virgin Media O2’s commitment to supporting all people in our communities and the connections we have with groups who are supporting people who are Neuro Diverse and/or have learning disabilities.

We also have a number of initiatives supporting people who are neuro-diverse or have learning difficulties:

  • Virgin Media had a multi-year partnership with Scope to set-up Support to Work which focused on getting people with disabilities into employment.
  • Through our partnership with Internet Matters, we offer guidance and support for parents and carers of children and young people with SEND.
  • We've recently extended our partnership with Good Things Foundation up until 2025 with a £2m investment to help them support more people with digital skills training and confidence. We are their first strategic partner.
  • Through our Take Five volunteering programme, our people have up to 5 days of paid leave to spend volunteering with local causes and they do this primarily through Neighbourly which connects our people with good causes looking for volunteers, such as Barlow Road Community Gardens where some of our colleagues recently spent the day supporting them with their initiative that provides gardening training to adults with learning difficulties. Any cause can join Neighbourly for free and advertise volunteer requests to our people.
  • For O2 customers, our Access for All customer support programme offers a range of services and extra help depending on the need of the individual. And internally we have a number of networks that support our people in different ways including our Ultraviolet network.

Also for your reference in GM we are working with a number of organisations that offer support to people who are Neuro Diverse and/or have learning disabilities – such as KeyRingSeeAbility, and Everyone Can. They may be worth connecting with for more details of available support. 

Useful resources


Date of webinar: 
20 Sep 2022 - 13:00