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Older man in garden using phone

Millions of over 55s not using internet risk being locked out of essential services and online benefits

Our report calls for new approaches to ‘digital inclusion’, and for business, the public sector and charities to make sure the most vulnerable don’t miss out.

ONS figures released today show 4.8 million people over the age of 55 are not online – making up 91% of all ‘non-users’. They are at risk of missing out as essential services continue to move online, and companies increasingly offer online-only deals, our new report warns.

Ageing Better's report, 'The digital age: new approaches to supporting people in later life get online', published today identifies an urgent need for new approaches to supporting people in later life to get online. It urges government, companies and organisations to ensure that the most vulnerable people don’t get locked out of essential services and benefits.

While more older people are accessing the internet than ever before, 4.8 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’.

The digital age: new approaches to supporting people in later life get online

Read the report

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

Jemma Mouland on the digital age

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.”

Bob Dunkerley, 86, a former coal miner and engineer, who recently went online for the first time with the support of his local Online Centre, said:

“Every time I looked at the television, if I wanted to buy something or find something, I had to be online. I asked myself, ‘How do I get in touch with Amazon if I don’t have a computer?’

“Being online has opened up a whole new world for me. I like being able to do things like banking, paying gas bills, and learning things I didn’t know before – especially watching videos about engineering.

“What really helped me get online was having someone take me through things slowly, one-to-one, giving me time to go at my own pace and ask questions. I tried computer classes at night school, but they moved too quickly.”

Getting the most out of digital

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