What does social value mean?
Social value is widely embedded into project calculations, not just within housing providers but also in local authorities, central government and devolved governments across the UK. Many procurement exercises now include social value weightings in their tender documents, and boards increasingly want to demonstrate how their organisation contributes to creating social value as well as financial value.
The government thinks of ‘social value’ in the context of economic, social and environmental wellbeing through public services contracts and is 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.
The Act does appear to be making a difference; research last year from Social Enterprise UK found that 82 per cent of local councils believe social value drives higher levels of growth, while 42 per cent of councils have found that it has reduced social inequalities.
How broadband relates to social value
Defining social value means thinking widely about the effect that gigabit broadband can have on transforming an entire area or community. For housing providers, it is a methodology that means they can demonstrate a wider vision to their stakeholders and has relevance both for new developments but also retrofitting existing ones with better, faster and more reliable broadband. Calculating social value typically splits into two categories – the economic impact on businesses, consumers and their finances, and then its social impact on communities and the wellbeing of individuals within those communities.
Working with us, Simetrica Jacobs, a research consultancy specialising in social impact measurement, has found 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. One of the most notable is educational opportunities.
As we have already seen with home schooling during the lockdown, broadband with higher bandwidth allows users to access information with less disruption. But even before the pandemic, there had already been a proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) unlocked by wider access to fast broadband.
As we all know, faster broadband simply makes the existing services we use for work and play more reliable. Zoom calls for remote working become more reliable. Netflix and iPlayer become more immersive since it means we can enjoy higher definition content. Online gaming services work much better.
Reliability also helps reduce isolation and loneliness since it means we are more likely to connect with others through the internet via social media and other platforms. We are also more likely to be willing to seek out better deals online and wade through price comparison websites and attempt an online shop when sites load faster. And as homes become increasingly ‘smart’, the underlying technology that makes homes greener, safer and more enjoyable works better the faster the connection.
Pandemic is making social value more obvious
If we weren’t aware of social value before, then arguably the pandemic has brought everything into a sharper focus. 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’s 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 the discounts reach the individuals who would benefit most from them.
In a world that increasingly relies on digital connectivity, over 11 million people in the UK lack essential digital skills and 19 per cent don’t have the core digital skills needed to use the internet. Many of these people live in social housing communities. This is why much greater benefit from enhanced digital infrastructure 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 around £1,400 per person per year. And of course, gaining computer skills may also affect the likelihood of becoming employed, with Simetrica Jacobs calculating the wellbeing uplift experienced by individuals who receive employment training to be worth around £800.
High-speed broadband can also bring communities together physically via hubs such as community centres. These can be hugely beneficial and act as a lifeline for many people; we believe community hubs are essential to reaching and spreading digital inclusion to all sections of society.
Many of the factors we have highlighted are now available via a social value calculator to show how much value hyperfast broadband can bring to communities.
Social value calculator
Developed with Simetrica Jacobs, the Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust (HACT) and Hyperoptic, our social value calculator makes it simple for housing providers to put input key factors affecting their community and get instant access to independent data. In doing so, we hope to break new ground in understanding, communicating and delivering social value in relation to high-speed broadband and digital skills.
Liam McAvoy is the senior director of business development at Hyperoptic.