A pound;15 MILLION scheme to give cheap computers to lifelong learners and the unemployed will be launched next month.
The Government hopes that the Computers Within Reach pilot scheme will help as many as 100,000 individuals and families to buy a reconditioned PC, or to lease one for about pound;5 a month.
The project is intended to enhance job-seekers' information technology skills, improving their employment prospects and helping them complete training courses. It is also hoped to reduce under-achievement caused by lack of access to computers and allow parents to help their children with school homework.
Last year's IT for All survey revealed that for 41 per cent of respondents cost was the main obstacle to using computers.
The Department for Education and Employment, which will subsidise the cost of reconditioning and distributing the equipment, is considering bids from interested consortia involving computer suppliers, charities, PC-recycling firms and community groups.
Michael Wills, the learning and technology minister, recently told Parliament that all proposals meeting the terms of the initiative will be accepted. He said a list of areas that the projects will cover will be published later this spring.
The thee-year pilot scheme is intended to become self-sustaining. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, proposed the idea in last year's Budget.
As well as reducing the amount of still usable computer equipment being discarded, the scheme may also give New Deal participants work experience in community computer-recycling schemes.
Women are being urged to upgrade their computer skills to improve their job prospects and maximise their earning power whether or not they are working.
Margaret Jay, minister for women, issued the call following research that found the average woman earns pound;250,000 less than a man during her working life.
"If there is one thing women can do to improve their lifetime incomes it is to get computer skilled," she told an Institute for Public Policy Research seminar last week.
"Skills mean marketability and marketability means higher salaries."
The IT for All survey found that only 51 per cent of female respondents had used a computer, compared with 65 per cent of males. Men were also more likely to have used the Internet.
To receive details about the Computers within Reach projects write to:
Computers within Reach, NGFL
Division, DFEE, Caxton House, Tothill Street, London SW1