Employees value home PCs over gym membership

When it comes to fringe benefits employees would rather have a home PC than gym membership, but say governments are not doing enough to encourage such schemes

Over a third of employees who already have home PCs and Internet access provided by their employer would prefer to keep this fringe benefit over membership to a health club, according to research.

Furthermore, half of those European workers who do not have access to a PC would like their governments to encourage schemes that would provide them with home PCs connected to the Internet.

Thirty five million workers out of 80 million across the UK, France and Germany, do not have access to a computer or the Internet either at home or at work. One third of these -- including ten million British workers -- say that access to a home PC should not be limited to those who can afford one.

According to the Mouse in the House report published by MORI on Thursday, 64 percent of workers who wanted their company to provide a PC said the government should encourage employer schemes to provide home technology for all. Over one third said they believed their companies might provide a home PC with Internet access if governments offered to back such a scheme.

Peter Adams, general manager of PC supplier PeoplePC, which commissioned the study, said: "In the 21st Century e-literacy is as important as reading and writing and the findings clearly show that many employees in the UK would rather have an employment benefit that provides them with Internet access for use at home for both education and leisure purposes, over membership to a gym."

One third of British workers are prepared to contribute to the cost of a company subsidised PC with Internet access and full technical support. Two-fifths claimed that they would pay more than £15 a month for the privilege, which contradicts an AOL Cyberstudy published on the same day, where 50 percent of Internet users cited the cost of computers as the biggest obstacle in preventing online access across Europe.

Younger people under 35 show the greatest desire to use the Internet, but many believe they cannot afford to do so. Frustration is highest in France, where 37 percent of technology "have-nots" are keen to get online, compared with 22 percent in the UK.

One quarter of all workers without technology access at home or work want to know how to use a computer, with a quarter also wanting other members of their family to have access.

A recent report by a Trade and Industry select committee accused the government of having no coherent strategy to combat the digital divide and described various projects intended to give equal access to the Internet as "futile gestures".

In the run up to the general election, a period of purdah prevents the government from commenting on new reports, but the MORI study does not bodes well for the government's target to promote e-business and to have all companies online by 2005. Companies need to use external email frequently, have a Web site, or use Electronic Data Interchange in order to qualify under DTI rules as an online business.

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