Ministers should launch a low-cost broadband tariff for the poorest families to help bridge Britain's digital divide, MPs will be told this week.

Industry regulator Ofcom should create a special rate for low-income households – including homes with children on free school meals, according to Commons Business Select Committee chairman Darren Jones.

He says the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted unfairness in the system, with kids from well-off families able to log on for remote school lessons but children from poorer households often priced-out of lessons in lockdown because of expensive internet deals.

He will bid to change the system using a parliamentary Ten-Minute Rule Bill on Wednesday – a move backed by three former Culture secretaries, including two Tories.

Child using a tablet computer
Kids have relied on digital devices during the coronavirus lockdowns

In December, Ofcom estimated about one in five families struggle to pay monthly bills for telephone and broadband.

Some firms have provided free data for kids to help them take part in online classes during the lockdown.

But Mr Jones, a former in-house lawyer at BT and who was a consumer rights solicitor in the telecoms industry before becoming an MP in 2015, said short-term fixes did not solve long-term problems.

He told the Mirror: “Temporary uplifts to mobile data and free access to certain educational websites during the lockdown are important, but temporary.

“We need a long-term solution to digital poverty in our country, especially for children who need internet access for educational purposes.

Commons Business Select Committee chairman Darren Jones

“My Bill merely highlights the powers that already exist in law to introduce a social tariff for broadband.

“It doesn’t ask for new legislation or money from the Treasury. I hope the Government will now get on and take action.”

Helen Milner, chief executive of leading digital inclusion charity the Good Things Foundation, said: “The Covid pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated an existing inequality in access to the internet.

“We support Darren Jones’ call for a social tariff for broadband, which we believe will make a fundamental difference to this issue for many children and low-income households across the country.

Better-off families are less likely to struggle

“By offering routes to low-cost internet access, we can ensure that no parent will have to choose between feeding their children or helping them to learn online.”

The Bill, which has cross-party support and is backed by dozens of MPs, faces its first Commons hurdle at lunchtime om Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the Government was forced to deny it had "snubbed" an offer from BT to provide disadvantaged children with internet access for remote learning.

The utility giant said the Government "struggled to distribute" wifi vouchers and "effectively handed them back to us".

But a Department for Education spokesman claimed a pilot of the scheme had not provided "reliable and consistent" internet connection.

A Government spokeswoman said: "We agree digital connectivity is vital.

“Large providers already offer social tariffs, and we have worked with them during the pandemic to make sure people have the connectivity they need.

“We welcome Ofcom encouraging other providers to introduce social tariffs and will monitor the situation closely."