Service deliveryDigital Customer ServiceOver 55s locked out of essential services and online benefits, report warns

Over 55s locked out of essential services and online benefits, report warns

Problem will likely persist for future generations as society becomes ‘digital by default’ and given the pace of technological change and its increasing complexity

New research published today identifies an urgent need for new approaches to supporting people in later life to get online and urges government, companies and organisations to ensure that the most vulnerable don’t get locked out of essential services and benefits.

While more older people are accessing the internet than ever before, 4.7 million people over the age of 55 are not online – mostly those with the lowest levels of wealth, health and education.

The research carried out by the Centre for Ageing Better and digital charity Good Things Foundation, shows that while some people are happy and able to access services offline or through family and friends, others will increasingly struggle to access essential services and miss out on online help and information as society becomes ‘digital-by-default’.

 

Persistent problem

This issue is not just down to the current older generation not being digitally savvy, and will persist into the future, the report warns. The millions of people in their 50s and 60s currently not online could still have another 30 or 40 years offline. Even in future generations there will likely always be a core of older people who struggle to keep up with technological change and the increasing complexity of online activity, it says.

Many current approaches to boosting digital inclusion don’t reach or support many of those who are most at risk and would benefit most from being online, the report warns. It outlines ways of helping older people to engage with digital technology and calls for greater investment in more intensive, longer-term support. Programmes should focus on building confidence, as well as belief that the internet is of value to an individual – rather than concentrating on developing digital skills.

Family can offer support both in purchasing equipment and providing ‘proxy’ access to the internet. Ofcom data shows proxy internet use is increasing and that 44% of non-users access the internet through a proxy such as a family member. However, today’s study shows they generally make poor teachers and can harm the self-confidence that older people need to get online, especially when they lack the patience to repeat things or explain them clearly.

The Centre for Ageing Better has outlined recommendations for Government, providers and funders to develop a wider range of outreach strategies, and deliver more person-centred, community-based and open-ended support – while recognising that some people will never go online and should not miss out on essential services or information as a result.

 

Recommendations

The report, which can be found here, recommends that Government should:

  • Look beyond ‘basic digital skills’ in the UK Digital Strategy section on skills and inclusion – a strategy based on increasing basic digital skills will fail to address the fundamental barriers to digital engagement in later life.
  • Recognise that some people will not get online – digital inclusion policy needs to recognise that for some, getting online is neither urgent nor a priority. We should ensure that people who are not online do not lose out as a result.
  • Use Local Digital Skills Partnerships as testbeds – local partnerships should develop and trial innovative models of engagement, outreach and embedded support.

Jemma Mouland, Senior Programme Manager, Centre for Ageing Better commented: “Digital by default makes sense for much of society, but in the drive for efficiency we must not lose sight of the reality that some people won’t ever go online or will have limited ability to use the internet. Companies, government, and services who are moving operations online need to ensure that these people don’t get locked out of access to information and essential services such as banking, health information, booking appointments or paying bills.

“A lot of current digital inclusion policy and practice misses the point. It focuses on basic digital skills, when what’s needed is an urgent change in approach to help people build confidence and understand the value the internet could have for them.

“This isn’t a problem that’s going away – it’s likely that those in later life will continue to fall behind, both now and in the future. We need to rethink our approach or risk deepening inequality across our society.”

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