Our industry can be the lifeline to pull together a digitally-inclusive society


By Marc Allera, CEO, BT Group’s Consumer division. 

For the most vulnerable people up and down the country, the coming days and months could be more challenging than ever. The final day of the UK's job furlough scheme will be 30 September, and it will be withdrawn completely from 1 October. And in just a week's time, the Government also plans to cut the £20 Universal Credit uplift, meaning millions more families will, in the words of Marcus Rashford, "lose a lifeline".

Now is the time for all network providers to do all they can to offer a new lifeline. Across our industry, we all need to step up to the challenges facing a society that needs connectivity more than ever, but is increasingly fractured – otherwise too many vulnerable people will fall between the gaps.

The most recent figures show 1.6m people were on furlough at the end of July – and almost one in four people fear losing their jobs as a result of the scheme coming to an end, according to a recent story in The i newspaper. BBC News recently reported that Universal Credit is claimed by more than 5.8m people in England, Scotland and Wales. Meanwhile, research by Turn2Us predicts one in seven people will struggle to pay their bills.

At BT and EE, we have a responsibility not only to our customers, but to our country. We want to play our part in building a digitally-inclusive society and help as many people as we can. That’s why at the end of June we launched BT Home Essentials. Home Essentials is BT’s low-cost social tariff to connect those who need it most with fibre broadband and calls. We are proud to have extended eligibility to all customers on Universal Credit and other means-tested benefits. When we launched a few short months ago, a potential 4.6m households could benefit. 

BT alone cannot make our society digitally inclusive, even as we continue to invest in our networks to keep up with unprecedented customer demand for data in this new world of connectivity. So, we are calling on all fixed broadband operators to implement a social tariff costing no more than £200 per year, which offers speeds of up to 10mb upload/40mb download where available, for customers on low incomes and Universal Credit.

We are offering BT Home Essentials to help those who might struggle to afford broadband and landline. At the same time, we know that for some families £15 per month is still a stretch. If, as a society, we want to do more to help those people, Government support will be crucial. Funding or subsidies for social tariffs could make a very significant difference.

BT’s purpose, to Connect for Good, is at the heart of everything we do. We’re committed to making a positive difference for everyone across the UK, and particularly for our most vulnerable customers. If we can learn from the challenges of the past 18 months and work together, we can make the UK a better connected and digitally-inclusive place to live.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @marcallera