"If we continue to do nothing we will simply marginalise millions of older people …there are still almost two million over-75s who are not using computers at all”. Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK
New Age UK research has exploded the myth that the pandemic has driven most older people online.
The charity is calling for more support for this group who are finding it increasingly difficult to access essential goods and services as provision goes digital.
It warns that if action is not taken millions of digitally excluded older people could be left “high and dry.”
The Charity’s has published a new report called Digital inclusion and older people – how have things changed in a Covid-19 world?
It says that while just under a quarter (24 per cent) 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 say their use has remained unchanged, with nearly one in10 (9 per cent) actually using it less.
A few months into the pandemic 42 per cent of this age group were still non-users – contrary to media suggestions that as a result of the health emergency ‘everyone’ is now online.
Since the onset of COVID-19, the public sector, businesses and entertainment providers have increasingly turned to digital technology to engage with customers.
However Age UK is warning 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 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.
Others are physically unable to use a computer or simply not interested in getting online.
Age UK’s analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) COVID-19 Substudy Wave 1 shines a light on older people’s internet use a few months after the pandemic hit.
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 seen as the biggest barrier, with four-fifths (79 per cent) of over-75s citing this as a key factor.
Age UK says the best approach for helping older people gain confidence and improve their IT skills is through one-to-one ongoing support
Being able to make video calls to keep in contact with family can make a big difference for example, but it does not necessarily follow that the older person then goes on to deal with their finances online or access public services that way.
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.
It is warning that it is essential that those who cannot or do not want to use the internet are not excluded or disadvantaged as a result.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “These new findings debunk the idea that the pandemic has prompted a headlong rush online among our 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.
“This will disappoint many businesses and policymakers who are keen to move to a digital approach, in the hope of cutting costs. However, our analysis shows that if we continue in that direction and do nothing else, we will simply marginalise millions of older people …there are still almost two million over-75s who are not using computers at all”.
She added that the research also suggests a lack of digital skills and confidence is a big barrier stopping many of today’s over-75-year-olds going online, alongside the associated costs.
“At Age UK we’ve seen 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.”
A copy of Digital inclusion and older people – how have things changed in a Covid-19 world? is available here