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JEREMY CORBYN repeated his call for universal free broadband today after shocking new data showed almost six million families are struggling to pay their internet and phone bills amid the cost-of-living crisis.
The socialist former Labour leader told the Morning Star that the move, slammed as “crazed communism” by Tory prime minister Boris Johnson when it was included in Labour’s 2019 general election manifesto, is needed more than ever as real wages slump and inflation hits a 40-year double-digit high.
His demand came after consumer group Which? said figures compiled by regulator Ofcom revealed that an estimated 5.7 million households struggled to pay their broadband, mobile phone and land-line bills in April, when the consumer prices index inflation rate was lower than the 9.4 per cent it hit last month.
The number of households that experienced multiple affordability issues, such as struggling to pay for more than one telecoms service, increased by a staggering 56 per cent from February to April, the consumer group said.
About 3.5 million families reduced their spending on other essential items, such as food and clothes, to afford their connectivity services in April, up from an estimated 2.2 million two months previously — a 59 per cent increase, it added.
One-in-five lower income households reduced spending elsewhere to stay connected, while 13 per cent of middle-income households were forced to do the same, almost doubling from 7 per cent during the winter.
The reality of so many homes choosing to prioritise their telecoms services in response to rising prices “further demonstrates just how essential these services are to modern life,” Which? stressed.
Mr Corbyn said: “The case I made for universal free access to broadband was very strong in December 2019, but post-Covid and now into the depths of the biggest hit on working-class living standards for decades, it’s more important than ever that all of our communities are able to communicate with each other.
“It’s a basic human right. Let’s get on with it and bring forward free broadband for all by public ownership of the relevant sections of BT and other companies.”
Which? urged ministers to save the average household an estimated £120 a year by cutting VAT on household telecoms bills from 20 to 5 per cent in line with other essentials such as gas and electricity.
Providers must also support any customers struggling to afford their bills and to make them aware of any discounts they may be eligible for, the consumer group added.
Which? director of policy and advocacy Rocio Concha said: “The fact that millions of households have made sacrifices to prioritise their broadband and mobile connections during the cost-of-living crisis demonstrates just how essential these services are for day-to-day modern life.
“To help cut bill costs, the next prime minister should reduce the VAT paid on telecoms in line with other essential services.
“Businesses must support anyone struggling to afford their bills and ensure consumers are aware of and able to access the best deals.”
The race to succeed Mr Johnson in Downing Street is set to end on September 5, when the winner of the Tory leadership ballot between former chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is announced.
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