Free laptops for low-income families

The Home Access scheme to give free laptops and broadband to 270,000 poorer families is being rolled out across the UK.

The Home Access scheme to give free laptops and broadband to 270,000 poorer families is being rolled out across the UK.

The £300 million plan was first announced by the Government in 2008 and has been piloted in two areas, already giving grants to thousands of families.

Each grant will fund a free laptop, a year's free broadband connection, or both, in a bid to close the digital divide.

While the Government uses free school meals as a benchmark for poor children, not all families on low-incomes - those earning less than £16,040 per year - will get a grant, the Government has said.

Children in council care and with specific educational needs will be prioritised though all low-income families with children aged 7-14 can apply for a grant by calling 0333 200 1004.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls said: "Families who are most in need cannot be left behind in the digital revolution we're seeing in education."

However, Andrew Heaney, executive director of strategy and regulation at TalkTalk Broadband said: "The Prime Minister's announcement that 270,000 low-income families will receive a free computer and free broadband access betrays some deeply muddled thinking.

"No one would dispute that getting low-income families online is a good thing. But the Government's other initiatives are working to discourage uptake and make internet access unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of other families.

"As a result of two Government proposals - the phone tax and copyright protection - families face an extra cost of £30 a year to stay online. Demand modelling shows that this additional burden could lead to 600,000 financially stretched families being forced to give up their broadband connections."

A recent study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies suggested that access to a laptop at home could boost GCSE performance by two grades in one subject.

Michael Phillips, product director, said: "If you don't qualify for the Home Access scheme you can still spread the cost of a new computer by signing up to afree laptop deal from amobile broadband provider. However, you will need to keep an eye on your download allowances to make sure you don't exceed your limit - especially if you have kids at home who spend a lot of time online," he warned.

"There are also loads of cheap broadband deals available - TalkTalk is currently offering a year's free broadbandwhen you sign up for 24 months and Plusnet Broadband offers one of the cheapest standalone packages on the market, starting at just £5.99 a month," added Phillips.

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