More than 1 in 3 over 65s lack the basic skills to use the internet successfully and safely

A new report from Age UK shows that more than 1 in 3 over 65s (4.7 million) lack the basic skills to use the internet successfully and 1 in 6 (2.3 million) don’t use it at all.

Age UK has highlighted the forgotten “digital excluded” in its new report: “Offline and Overlooked”, which contains new analysis which found around 4.7million people aged 65 and over in the UK are unable to complete all eight of the most fundamental tasks required to use the internet successfully. 

These include being able to turn on devices and enter account logins, use settings and controls on your device, open applications, set up connection to WiFi, open internet browsers, keep passwords secure and change passwords when prompted to do so. 

Despite the increase in older people going online over recent years, around 1 in 6 of people aged 65 and over, equivalent to 2.3m do not use the internet at all – and almost half (48%) of these people are aged 75+.

The report points out that in an increasingly digital world where almost everything from accessing NHS services and shopping to socialising and entertainment is taking place on the internet, there are millions of older people who are not online and who are being left behind. The Charity warns that it will never be possible to get everyone online and trying to force the issue poses a real risk to older people’s health, finances and ability to participate in society.

The report explores older people’s struggles in managing GP and hospital appointments, accessing council services, banking and applying for benefits.

In droves, they told the Charity they feel disempowered and left behind, just because they cannot do tasks online. They want to stay in control of how they live their lives and are fully capable of doing so, but an inability to use the internet is forcing some to rely on others, restricting their sense of agency and undermining their self-esteem.

Ahead of the General Election, Age UK is calling on all parties to make sure that all public services, including the NHS, council services and other nationally provided public services, offer and promote an affordable, easy to access, offline way of reaching and using them. 

In addition, essential private sector-run services, crucially including banking, should ensure that their customers who are offline or have lower level digital skills can continue to meet their day-to-day needs.  

In order to guarantee equal and fair access to essential services for everyone, Age UK recommends: 

  • All public services, including the NHS, council services and other nationally provided public services, must offer and promote an affordable, easy to access, offline way of reaching and using them. 
  • The Government must make sure local government receives enough funding to provide offline services. 
  • There needs to be much more funding and support to enable people who are not internet users, but who would like to be, to get online. 
  • 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). 
  • The Government should change the law to require banks to maintain face-to-face services. 
  • Banks must accelerate the roll-out of shared Banking Hubs to meet the high and continuing demand for face-to-face banking services. 

Caroline Abrahams CBE, Charity Director at Age UK said: “Many public as well as private service providers seem hell-bent on shifting their activities online but, as our new report shows, it’s clear that in doing so they are leaving fully one in three of the older population behind. In fact, the inconvenient truth is that many millions of people of all ages, especially older ones, are neither confident nor adept at using the internet, and want and need to continue to be able to transact their business in more traditional ways.    

“The Government should step in and ensure that we can all choose to access and use public services offline – by phone, letter or face to face as appropriate – rather than forcing everyone down a digital route many of us are struggling to navigate, and some of us are unable to navigate at all.  

“Older people who are not internet users or digitally savvy tell us how cross and upset they are when the main access to crucial services like GP appointments and Blue Badge applications, moves to being online. As our new report shows, this often leaves them feeling disregarded and disempowered, and the consequences can be serious, severing them from the support they need to stay fit, well and independent.  

“Age UK supports older people who want to go online to do so through a number of excellent digital programmes run by our local Age UKs, but the fact is that for a variety of reasons not everyone is able or willing to use the internet – particularly for more sophisticated tasks – and this will always be the case. Policy makers should stop fantasising about a digital-only world, come back down to earth and make sure older people can continue to access the services to which they are entitled – whether they use the internet or not.”

Although many older people fully embrace the digital world, digital exclusion increases with age. Age UK believes that people should be supported and encouraged to get online, but those who cannot, or do not want to do so should be able to access services and support in a way that suits them.

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