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Despite older people embracing technology and using online services, a new study from Civica has found that just 31 per cent of public sector leaders actively involve those aged 70+ when designing services and just over half have specific services designed to support this age group.

This puts the UK’s older generations at risk of missing out on the benefits of rapid advances in technology at a time when the need for online communications is more important than ever, says Civica, a specialist in software for public services.

The A word from the wise study comprised of focus groups of over-70s from across the UK, coupled with surveys of UK adults and public sector leaders.

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It set out to turn perceptions of the elderly’s use of technology on its head, showing the vast benefits that technology can have for older generations and demonstrating their eagerness to use it.

Over-70s embrace technology

Civica’s research found a high level of technology usage for those aged 70 and over, with just under two-thirds of respondents using a smartphone daily, 84 per cent confirming they are very or somewhat comfortable using a laptop and just over a quarter owning a smart speaker.

Additionally, the study underlined that this age group are experienced online users of public services. Over two-thirds have applied for a passport/driving licence or bus pass online (higher than any other age group) and 60 per cent have experience in booking GP and hospital appointments or have ordered repeat prescriptions online.

The study also revealed the over-70s see the positive benefits in newer technologies to further improve public services. Around 58 per cent confirmed biometric technology such as facial or fingerprint recognition can improve security, with a further 60 per cent seeing AI enhancing medical processes.

Tony Hughes, Executive Director for Local Government at Civica, said: “Our new research shows that the over 70s appreciate and enjoy using online services. They are equipped, savvy and ready to engage. Public services are playing a vital role in delivering services in these exceptional circumstances and the findings give leaders reassurance that technology can further support this age group.

“With the over 70s accounting for 15% of the UK population – almost nine million people and growing – it should be a priority for all organisations to ensure this generation is factored into new digital developments and current online offerings.

“This is especially important as we move out of COVID-19 restrictions, providing public sector organisations with the chance to rethink and reshape services in light of new and current needs.”

Include over-70s in service design

The public sector leaders surveyed confirmed 81 per cent include citizens in designing their services. However, only 31 per cent of those citizens were aged 70 and over. This is despite the fact that the over-70s use tablet and laptop devices more frequently daily than those aged 25-34 (39 per cent versus 23 per cent respectively for a tablet and 39 per cent versus 35 per cent respectively for a laptop), Civica adds.

With over-70s being tech-savvy but often excluded in the design of public services, Civica is calling for digital services to meet the requirements of all people in society, including the growing ageing population.

Julian David, CEO of techUK, commented: “The pandemic has shown the power of technology in keeping us connected with each other and this study provides a welcome insight into how we can build on this, ensuring technology is accessible for all to benefit.

“Public sector organisations have been extremely impressive at adapting to the pandemic, and as we look to build back better, I encourage them to take on board these valuable insights. techUK looks forward to working with these organisations, harnessing tech to deliver services that meet the needs of everyone in our society.”

Improving public services for everyone

Overall, 79 per cent of the over-70s surveyed feel technology has allowed public service organisations to provide better services to them.

However, Civica believes further support for this group is needed to help ensure a long term and positive impact, as only 34 per cent describe their online user experience with local government as ‘very good’. This compares to over two-thirds who described their user experience with banking and financial services as ‘very good,’ which claims the top spot in the study amongst those 70 and over.

By supporting the over-70s, public service leaders can take further positive steps in improving the overall experience, while also delivering cost-efficient services to this rapidly growing demographic.

The study and focus group findings highlighted four areas to help the over-70s use more public services online:

  • Awareness – improved awareness of the services available to them
  • Security – the over 70s are very aware of privacy and data security issues but need support to help improve their online confidence
  • Accessibility – better connectivity and ease-of-use to help them better access services
  • Inclusion – services designed with their needs in mind
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