fCom’s annual Affordability of Communication Services report, published today, reveals that a record 8 million UK households are having difficulty paying their paying their mobile, broadband, pay-TV and streaming bills.

The report also revealed that one in seven families have had to cut back spending in other areas, such as on food and clothing, in order to afford their broadband bills. Also, nearly one in ten (9 per cent) have cancelled a service in the last year.

Perhaps most worryingly, is the number of families struggling to pay their telecoms bills has doubled over the last year – from 15 per cent to 29 per cent – the highest level on record.

Even before the cost-of-living crisis and above inflation broadband price rises were announced, 2.5 million people were behind on their broadband bills. It’s therefore, sadly, no surprise that a record number of families are struggling to afford to get online.

Our very real concern now is that with the terrible pressure on finances many, many more households will become digitally excluded. Increasingly, that means not being able to access essential services, from healthcare to education and social security. Online access is no longer ‘nice to have’ – it’s vital. And it’s simply not right, in a society that believes in justice and compassion, that people are being forced to cut back on food or clothing for their families to just stay connected.

Telecoms companies must reconsider their planned price rises as a first step. Fundamentally however, too many families are being pulled into poverty and the recent budget simply did not address this. We need to see real efforts from government to tackle this if we want to achieve a fair, compassionate and connected country.

For more details of social tariffs available across the UK, visit Ofcom’s full list of available tarriffs.

Paul Finnis, CEO of Digital Poverty Alliance and the Learning Foundation