Report warns of exclusion for ‘offline generation’

Report from Centre for Ageing Better and Good Things Foundation calls on society sectors to ensure most vulnerable aren’t increasingly digitally marginalised.

James Hayes | 31st May 18
Image of an older woman using a computer keyboard, representing a report by Centre for Ageing Better and Good Things Foundation. Unsplash/Ira Selendripity

For the second time this week* charitable sector research has identified a growing need to support older people to get online and ensure that digital exclusion doesn’t deny them access to essential services or miss out on online help and information.

The research findings are contained in The Digital Age: New Approaches to Supporting People in Later Life Online, a report by charitable foundation Centre for Ageing Better and digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation.

It indicates that while some older people are happy and able to continue to access services offline or through family and friends for the time being, millions of people now in their 50s and 60s who are not online could still be destined for another 30-40 years offline – placing further pressure on Internet helpers and other digital assistance providers.

‘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,’ the report has pointed out.

Many current approaches to boosting digital inclusion do not reach or support many of those who are most at risk and would benefit most from being online, the report also warns. It outlines ways of helping older people to engage with increasingly ‘digital-by-default’ societies, 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.

“Much digital inclusion policy and practice now available misses the point,” said Jemma Mouland, Senior Programme Manager at Centre for Ageing Better and the report’s author. “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.”

Mouland added: “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. Businesses, government, and services who are moving operations online must 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.”

The Centre for Ageing Better has outlined multiple 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. At the same time they must also recognise that some people will never go online and should not be digitally excluded from essential services or information as a result, the Centre adds.

*A report from Age UK published earlier this week found that two-fifths of local councils in England say housing benefit and council tax reduction – two key benefits to which older people may be entitled – can only be claimed through digitally-enabled means.