5.8m aged 65+ either unable to use the internet easily or aren’t online at all

Alarming new analysis carried out by Age UK reveals that almost half (46%) of over-65s in the UK are unable to complete all eight of the most fundamental tasks required to use the internet safely and successfully.

The comparable figures for people aged 65 to 74, and for those aged 75 & over, are 30% and 69% respectively. The Charity says this shows that the headlong rush towards ‘digital by default’ is excluding millions of older people from being able to access and use the essential public services they need – including some for which they are the target audience and principal users.

The findings are released on the day that Age UK launches a new campaign, #OfflineandOverlooked, designed to persuade the Government to ensure that everyone is able to choose to access and use public services offline – by phone, letter or face to face as appropriate – rather than constantly being forced down a digital route. This would end the discrimination against millions of older people who are not online or digitally savvy, that means many currently struggle to do routine things like make a medical appointment, order a blue badge for their car or pay to park it.  

The number of older people online has increased substantially over recent years, but there is still a sizable minority who are not online.  In fact, a total of 2.7 million over-65s in the UK do not use the internet at all, equivalent to around one in five (22%) of this age group.  It is also notable that this includes almost 500,000 over-65s who had used the internet in the past but don’t do so now, showing that as we age it is not unusual to scale down or cease our online activities altogether.

Despite digital technology playing an increasing role in our lives and, for many of us, it being essential to the way we socialise, work, shop, manage their finances, access services, and get entertainment, 

Among over-65s in the UK:   

  • Almost one-in-four (23%) are unable to turn on the device and enter any account login information as required. 
  • Almost three-in-ten (28%) are unable to find and open different applications/programmes/ platforms on their devices (e.g. opening a web browser, messaging applications).
  • One-in-four (25%) are unable to keep their login information and passwords for a device and any accounts secure (e.g. not shared with anyone or written down or left prominently near a device).
  • One-in-four (25%) are unable to update and change their password when prompted to do so. 
  • Around one-in-five (24%)  are unable to open an Internet browser to find and use websites (e.g. Safari, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge).
  • Around one-in-five (26%) are unable to use the different settings on their device to make it easier to use (e.g. adjust font size, volume settings, brightness of screen, voice activation or screen readers).
  • Around one-in-four (21%) are unable to use the available controls on their device (e.g. mouse, keyboard, touchscreen, trackpad).
  • Around one-in-three (35%) are unable to set up a connection to a Wi-fi network on their devices (e.g. when at home, work, out in public or visiting family and friends).

Digital exclusion increases with age

Among older people in England who wished to use the internet more frequently, Age UK’s own research shows:  

  • Around 69% of people aged 65 and over do not have good enough IT skills to do so.
  • Around 37% of people aged 65and over said they didn’t trust the internet.
  • Around 9% of people aged 65and over said health reasons prevented them from doing this. 
  • Around 25% of people aged 65 and over do not have good enough equipment and/or broadband access.

Age UK’s new research supports the Charity’s call for older people who cannot, or do not want to use the internet to have access to services and support in another way that suits them.     

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: 

“The figures we are releasing today should be a wake-up call for policymakers, because they show the alarming extent to which the rush towards ‘digital by default’ is excluding our older population. It is well known that millions of older people are not online and that’s bad enough, but now it is also clear that even among those who are online in this age group, the majority only have relatively limited digital skills. When you think about it this is not really surprising since they did not grow up with the technology and some have had only limited exposure to it as adults.

“The fact that so many millions of older people are unable to participate safely and successfully online is an inconvenient truth for governments and other organisations keen to slash costs by moving everything online, but it’s one we must confront and act on as a society. If we don’t, we are essentially saying it’s ok for legions of older people not to be able to do ordinary things like book a medical appointment, organise a blue badge for their car or pay to park it and surely that is totally unacceptable. It is at best infantilising older people and at worst erecting insurmountable barriers when it comes to them getting the essential services they need – including medical treatment, which is downright dangerous.

“At Age UK we think it’s time that everyone has the right to access public services offline. This is not being Luddite, far from it – as a Charity we run some brilliant digital inclusion programmes around the country – but rather a recognition that online methods simply are not working for millions of older people now and never will, and they should be able to choose to access public services in more traditional ways – by phone, letter and face to face, as appropriate.    

“That’s why today, at Age UK we are launching a new public campaign, #OfflineandOverlooked, with two key asks:  

• All public services, including the NHS, council services and other nationally provided public services, must be legally required to offer and promote an affordable, easy to access, offline way of reaching and using them, funded by central Government.  

• The Government should lead on the development of a long term, fully funded national Digital Inclusion Strategy, to support people of all ages who want to go online to do so. [The last such strategy was produced in 2014].

“We are launching an online and offline petition and we hope that millions of people of all ages will sign up and join us in our campaign. As a Charity we have been inundated by complaints from older people who are deeply unhappy about organisations they engage with forcing them down a digital route, including from some in later life who use computers but who still prefer to talk to someone sometimes, over the phone or face to face. We have also heard from some older people who simply gave up even trying to access the service they needed because they couldn’t manage a more technological approach, which is undemocratic as well as extremely sad.

“We should be using digital tech to expand choice for people, not restrict it, but unfortunately the statistics we are drawing attention to today mean ‘digital by default’ hard wires discrimination against our older population and that’s totally unacceptable.”  

To sign Age UK’s “Offline and overlooked” petition go to: https://tinyurl.com/OfflineandOverlooked. People who are not online can also sign (or request a petition sheet to get loved ones to sign) by writing to: Freepost, Age UK campaigns.  

Locally and nationally Age UK works to increase digital engagement for those older people who want to increase their digital skills.  To learn more about getting online and staying safe whilst using the internet, please visit www.ageuk.org.uk/digital-champions  

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