Elderly technology

Age UK is calling for greater support for older people unable to access essential goods and services online after new analysis shows that the pandemic has not produced a sea-change in older people’s use of digital technology.

The charity’s latest report Digital inclusion and older people – how have things changed in a Covid-19 world? shows that while just under a quarter of over-75s in England have increased their internet usage since the pandemic hit, this is mainly driven by existing users going online more often.

Most older online users, the report found, say that their use has remained unchanged, with nearly one in 10 actually using it less.

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A few months into the pandemic more than two in five of the over-75 age group were still non-users, according to Age UK, which busts the myth that as a result of this health emergency ‘everyone’ is now online.

As the report explains, since the onset of Covid-19, the public sector, businesses and entertainment providers have increasingly turned to digital technology to engage with customers.

For many people, the pandemic has changed the way many people work, socialise, communicate, buy goods, access services, and generally live their lives, but the Age UK research found that the rapid pace of this change is leaving significant numbers of older people behind.

While many over-75s are using the internet more for shopping or keeping in touch, some older people have been unable to access free Wi-Fi and computer equipment or training at public spaces such as cafes, libraries and local centres during the pandemic, and many others are physically unable to use a computer or simply not interested in getting online.

Age UK’s report revealed that the over-75s are the age group least likely to use the internet and the study found that only 15 per cent of the nearly two million offline in this age group have an interest in getting online at all.

Of all those who said they would like to use the internet more frequently or for more tasks, including those who are already online, a lack of IT skills was perceived to be the biggest barrier, with 79 per cent of over-75s citing this as a key factor.

The charity is calling for more investment in digital skills training and IT hardware to support older people who are digitally excluded to get online safely and improve their skills. Without it, it says, many older people will simply be left behind, with some struggling to access basic goods and services.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said that the new findings debunk the idea that the pandemic has prompted a headlong rush online among the UK’s older population, and that once an older person starts to use computers they continue to do so and carry out an ever-wider range of tasks using technology.

“Our analysis shows that if we continue in that direction and do nothing else, we will simply marginalise millions of older people who either cannot or do not wish to use computers, many of whom never will.”

Pointing to research which suggests a lack of digital skills and confidence is a big barrier stopping many of today’s over-75-year-olds going online, Caroline added:

“We have seen ourselves at Age UK that one-to-one support and free or subsidised kit and broadband really helps overcome these difficulties and we are very grateful for all the donations and funding of this kind that we have received from partner companies.

“The fact is though that if Government and businesses really want to see a rise in the number of older people using computers, sustained investment is required. More could certainly be done though if the political will and financial wherewithal were there.”

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