Why getting older people online is more important than ever

This guest post has been written by David Mortimer, Age UK’s Head of Digital Inclusion.

ND11Age UK’s front doors were thronged last Wednesday (11th May) with 50 enthusiasts of all ages in Age UK tee-shirts. Made up of a mixture of Age UK Internet Champions past and present, digital Inclusion volunteers and project co-ordinators, we were all on our way to the National Digital Champions celebration as part of the ND11 conference.

Now in its 6th year, the conference draws together hundreds of organisations from business, public sector and the third sector who have an interest in ensuring individuals get online. Two days of intense conversations followed on the latest approaches, the government agenda, business opportunities and challenges to overcome.

Day one belonged to Race Online 2012, the government agency headed up by Martha Lane Fox, and celebrated the great work done by so many to deliver digital inclusion services, or simply to help those they know.

The day ended with some entertainment, a funky dance-based bingo game and songs from an X Factor finalist, but the real magic was the sharing of how important digital inclusion is in the current climate and much swapping of ideas on how to reach and support people to gain the benefits of being online.

Dave Howe, Age UK’s joint Internet champion of the year, videoconferenced in from his home in Devon to talk about the importance of being able to access the internet to stay in touch and to use services as a person with restricted mobility due to illness.

That does not stop Dave from being an IT tutor with Age UK Devon. He may not have known it, but earlier he had been namechecked by the PM David Cameron as an example of exemplary volunteering.

As businesses and public services seek to encourage more and more people to transact online to save costs there was a great deal of focus on how quickly the remaining nine million who are offline can be persuaded to use digital communications and how they can be supported.

It was key for Age UK to remind organisations and individuals that two thirds of those offline were older people – around 6 million. Our stand was a constant melee of old friends and new ones discussing how to reach older people in the way they should be.

Francis Maude, MP (Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General) talked of the digital by default approach all government departments were now taking. Good design of these online services was essential but the intention it clear: when a service can be delivered online only then it should be.

Lord Knight (Labour) pointed out that the biggest challenge for the government would be to persuade the treasury to allow savings made to be reinvested in face to face support. It is clear that services are going online and the debate has moved on from whether they should to the pace of change and the support needed.

Tom Wright, CEO Age UK highlighted  that there were real benefits for older people going online if the proper support is available. This is why it is such a key issue for the charity and why we announced at the conference that we will galvanize 23,000 digital champions over the course of the next year.

As business develops strategies which rely on older people accessing services online; they must consider that 6 million older people would be excluded unless more is done to actively support them.

Look out for IT in the Post Offices. Their MD Paula Vennells is clear that their network has always been big society and thousands have been trained to help those who come into the post office find out more about getting online.

How to deliver digital inclusion services has never been more important which makes the seminar ‘Using new technology to empower older people and carers’ at Age UK’s services conference Services for Later Life 2011 even more key.

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