This blog was contributed by David Mortimer, Head of Digital Inclusion, at Age Age UK.
For many years, local and national organisations have been working to support individuals learn how to use computers. Despite many good initiatives and easier to use technology, new approaches are needed to reach and support those at risk of being increasingly cut off from the public and commercial service offers which assume both access and the skills to use their products.
That this remains primarily an older person’s issue is no surprise, but most older people have joined the digital age and many are competent. Those who have been left out, or have chosen to be left out, are not a homogenous group with one catch-all solution.
The traditional approach of marketing the benefits of being online has a role, but will continue to miss the mark for the majority of ‘digitally excluded’ older people. With so many simply not seeing any relevance of engaging with technology to them, the benefits should be seamed through everyday interventions and social activities so that older people can make choices based on a better knowledge of how this technology can enhance their unique combination of interests and circumstances.
Our new report on digital inclusion examines research around groups most likely to be excluded, or who exclude themselves, which can help us to target those groups more effectively. The evidence on how social connections can be maintained or increased is particularly compelling.
Those of us involved in delivering services will be well aware of the individuals stories highlighting how much of a lifeline access to family and friends online can be, particularly when at home, when a person has found their world shrinking due to health reasons, caring responsibilities or moving house. There is a chronic level of loneliness amongst older people in the UK and the part this technology can play to reduce that needs to be grasped and better understood.
At a time when economic resources are stretched, the case for supporting older people get online needs to continue to be strongly made and I would hope that the gaps in knowledge identified in our report will encourage further studies. Increasing the evidence will help make the case to direct some of the savings predicted by government and health services, to those who may have the most to gain from being online, if only they were properly supported to realise them.