Brown promises cheap computers for poor families

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More than 100,000 discounted computers are to be leased to poor families as part of a £20m package of measures to be unveiled by the Government today.

More than 100,000 discounted computers are to be leased to poor families as part of a £20m package of measures to be unveiled by the Government today.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, will outline the details of the scheme to give those on benefits a reconditioned computer with modem for just £5 a month.

Mr Brown will also announce plans to scrap tax on the use of workplace computers at home and a new drive to make it easier to invest in new British Internet companies.

The Chancellor will tell the UK Internet Summit in London today that the measures are crucial to prevent the poor from being excluded from the digital revolution.

Under plans being finalised with David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, the reconditioned computers will be provided by private firms and voluntary groups.

The pilot scheme will last for two years initially, with eligibility likely to be restricted to the unemployed and those receiving the working families tax credit. After two years, lessees will be able to keep the computer free or to upgrade by continuing the lease.

Mr Brown will announce that bids from firms will be invited next month and contracts issued in the new year so that the scheme will be in place by April 2000. If successful, it will increase by 10 per cent the number of Britons with access to the Internet.

The Chancellor will also reveal that his Pre-Budget Report next month will include tax changes to allow 300,000 employees the chance to borrow workplace computers for use at home. Rules treating computers as a benefit in kind will be scrapped.

He will also publish a new consultation document to cut red tape preventing wealthy individuals from investing in hi-tech start-up companies.

Investment in small companies will face far fewer regulations as part of a plan to speed up by months the time it takes to generate funds for Internet businesses.

In his speech today, Mr Brown will warn that without government action, Britain risked turning into a society with a "wired-up superclass and an information underclass. No one should be without computer and IT skills. As we enter the next century, we must make sure that nobody is left out of the computer revolution," he will say.

"We can't allow inequality in access to computers to lead to inequality in life for the next generation."

He will add: "As a nation, we could stand aside. We could live in a society divided between the information haves and the information have-notes."

Comparing the measure to the development of municipal libraries, Mr Brown will say: "We will pioneer a system so that people will be able to lease computers and software in the new century the way local libraries have loaned books in the last century."