Viewpoint | 19 Nov 2020

Making sure no-one is left behind as we recover from COVID-19

Nick Jeffery, CEO, Vodafone UK, outlines all the ways the company is supporting those who need help the most during this prolonged pandemic.

This health crisis has been truly terrible for many in our country, particularly the least well off. And that makes me sad, and a little angry.

Kids from less privileged households have been falling behind in their education because many don’t have access to the connectivity or technology that most of us take for granted.

Without connectivity they can’t access online education resources at home, so they can’t complete homework, they can’t catch up in the holidays if they’ve fallen behind. They become excluded from our digital society. As a result, we’re at risk of producing a lost generation.

We cannot allow that to happen.

Which is why I am determined to use the power of a big, successful technology communications company like Vodafone to help those who need our help the most.

Through our schools.connected programme we are providing connectivity for 250,000 primary and secondary school children across the UK, an initiative that has been welcomed by head teachers and education trusts concerned about the learning deficit COVID-19 has exacerbated.

We hope our free SIM cards – which come with a 30GB data allowance valid for 90 days – will go some way towards addressing this issue. Schools can order the SIMs here.

We’re also supporting schools with our Connected Education pilot in Newbury, which provides a whole suite of digital services for teachers and pupils, from tablets to mobile Wi-Fi, education software to technology consultancy. More schools are due to take part in the pilot.

These offers complement our Great British Tech Appeal, which saw 2,400 refurbished smartphones and tablets go to disadvantaged people across the UK with the help of our charity partners Barnardo’s, SafeLives and the British Red Cross. Huge thanks to all those who took part in this appeal.

Help for job seekers

Of course, it’s not just underprivileged schoolkids who are suffering. Many people have lost jobs during the pandemic, making an already stressful situation even worse. And worrying about bills only adds to their problems.

We want to help. So we’ve created a new Unlimited plan to help job seekers: no contract, no credit check, just unlimited data, calls and texts for £10 a month for up to six months (this would usually cost £35 a month). The plan is available to anyone claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance.

We know that the last thing you want to be worrying about when looking for a new job is how to pay the next bill.

Supporting our heroes

These initiatives build on the great work we’ve already been doing throughout the pandemic.

Since April, for example, we’ve been giving free unlimited data to NHS and care home workers. Now we’ve extended this offer through to 31 January 2021 to show our continued appreciation of the fantastic job these heroes have been doing in such trying times.

And we haven’t forgotten our business and consumer customers, of course.

We’ve supported businesses in a number of ways, offering six months of free broadband and six months’ free use of Office 365, for example, as well as free one-to-one guidance and support from our V-Hub agents. And we’ve now followed that up with a £125 bill credit for customers buying business broadband.

We also recognised that cashflow is an issue for many small businesses, particularly during this time of economic uncertainty. So for our smaller suppliers, we reduced our payment terms to 15 days for a six-month period and adhere to the Prompt Payment Code, promising to pay small businesses within 30 days.

But we want to do more because we know that small businesses are the engine room of the UK economy, so watch out for more offers in the weeks to come.

Keep connecting

With Christmas approaching fast and continued uncertainty over whether we’ll be able to visit our friends and family over this special time – despite the welcome appearance of viable vaccines on the horizon – we want to keep the country connecting, sharing and chatting. Our care home singalong with Katherine Jenkins was just one example of the power of connectivity to put smiles on people’s faces.

So we’re working on some great offers for our customers in the run-up to Christmas. I’ll be able to share more details soon.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve had two main priorities: firstly, keeping our colleagues and customers safe, and secondly, keeping the UK connected, so we can continue working, sharing and enjoying life as best we can. I feel I can say with some pride that we’ve largely achieved those objectives. And we’ll continue striving to serve our customers – and the country at large – to the best of our ability as we navigate our way through this health crisis.

Because it’s my fundamental belief that no-one should be isolated and lonely; no-one should feel excluded; and no-one should be left behind.

More from Nick

Creating the UK’s next ‘globally leading tech titans’

How we can tackle growing inequality in a pandemic-afflicted economy

Levelling up: How 5G can boost productivity across the UK

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