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Digital can help close the gap

We must enable older age groups to enjoy the benefits of digital

As part of our digital work stream, we have been assessing the landscape of digital in the ageing sector, to investigate the barriers and what can be done.

Many organisations do fantastic work in this field, particularly around tackling digital exclusion with older age groups through skills training.

It is clear that those over 75 are not as well served by digital as other age groups. Although evidence shows that there is a significant engagement with digital among those aged 55-64 (“half of people aged 55-64 have a social media profile”: Ofcom media use 2015 report), there remains a stark difference when comparing usage between younger and older age groups.

KEY FACT: “Those at older ages (75+) are over five times more likely not to be using the internet than individuals aged 55 to 64.” Age UK Digital inclusion report, 2013

There are clear benefits to be obtained from using digital technology and services – from connecting to family and friends, learning more about hobbies and interests, through to easier use of banking and services. So what are the challenges for older age groups that prevents more widespread adoption?


In assessing the landscape I found that there are a number of barriers that go beyond digital skills training:

  • Individuals – people who did not grow up with PCs and the Internet are more likely to lack digital skills. People are often willing to adapt and learn but they need to see the case for doing so. There should be more focus on providing digital benefits indirectly – making use of close networks (e.g. family, carers, and community) to get individuals connected through others.
  • Organisations – many VCS organisations offer IT skills training & some digital services, but require digital transformation themselves in order to better serve their members. This is challenging and expensive in the current climate.
  • Infrastructure – many older people do not have access to the internet at their place of residence, e.g. “Only 25% of registered care homes in the UK provide internet access to residents.” GO Science report on future of ageing, 2015
  • Public services – there has been a shift of public service channels to ‘default by digital’ which provides great convenience to those connected, but disadvantaging many older people when not properly co-designed or effectively rolled out.
  • Innovation – there is a wide array of excellent technology and digital services emerging in the ageing marketplace, many of which respond to the need for age-specific solutions that respect differences in ability. However many fail to reach the intended end market. Social investors perceive a lack of end customers (and potential scale) and consequently few ageing innovations make an impact, which in turn reduces funding and innovation.
  • Marketing – the digital marketplace already has thousands of apps & tools that cover many needs and offer convenience and connectivity. But they are not reaching the majority of older people. We must understand why. It could be a failure of marketing: “…the over 50’s hold 80% of the UK’s wealth and are responsible for as much as 40% (£260 billion) of total UK annual consumer spending – yet they currently receive in the region of 10% of marketing focus”. Active Age report on Ageing Marketplace, 2013 
What can be done?

There will always be a need for innovation, and in the ageing space there is demand for more specialised products and services that meet the particular needs of much older age groups. However I believe excellent products & services already exist, but they are not reaching older consumers who would benefit from access to and use of digital, because of gaps in the ‘digital supply chain’.

Ageing Better is looking to work closely with organisations (VCS, public & private) to explore what can be done to identify and address some of these barriers. Our ambition is to support Ageing Better’s overall aim of a better later life for everyone by assessing how we can increase the take-up of digital services, and the benefits they bring, to more people.

One area we are exploring is mapping the networks of individuals, looking at their links to family, friends and community, up through to local organisations and national-level services, to demonstrate where and how the digital supply chain is broken. We can then develop these maps to connect organisations, services and products through to the close networks of individuals

I believe that by working together to identify and bridge the gaps in the digital supply chain, we can find a way to allow many more people to enjoy the benefits of digital.

Would you like to find out more?

We hope to share more progress on this project in the coming weeks on our Digital project page.