Cymru Older Peoples Alliance have today [1 April 2023] published a new Policy Position Paper on Digital Inclusion of Older People in Wales [attached].
There is a range of evidence published that reflects that digital exclusion is a major problem for older people, particularly those over 75 and those on low incomes. According to the Office for National Statistics, only 47% of adults aged 65 and over in Wales were using the internet in 2020. This means that many older people are being “left behind” by the digital age.
Digital Technology can offer many benefits that can help to improve the quality of life for older people by providing opportunities for communication, learning, entertainment, and engagement. It can also help to promote independence and wellbeing, by making it easier to access vital services and resources. Examples include staying connected with family and friends, learn new skills, explore new interests, health support, online groups, convenience of online services.
However, many older people in Wales do not own a smartphone, tablet, or computer, making it difficult for them to access digital services. Even if older people have access to digital devices, they may not be able to afford the costs or have the skills or confidence to use them effectively. Examples include using parking apps, on line appointments, information and services shifted exclusively to digital platforms, mobile apps and online banking and closure of banks.
The key improvements that COPA want to see are:
- Commissioner for Older People Guidance on ‘Ensuring access to information and services in a digital age’ should be fully implemented performance monitored.
- All public, private and third sector bodies in Wales should uphold the principle that older people have the right to access and gather information using both digital and non-digital means.
- Public bodies should ensure that the human rights of older people are protected and that they are enabled to access information and get to the services they need by offline channels, or should they choose on-line, are supported to gain the skills and confidence to be able to connect online.
- A concerted effort to ensure a range of flexible training is available locally for older people to become informed and confident users of digital services.
- Local authorities and third sector to provide technical support for older people who are new online users or those wishing to learn about getting online.
- Greater priority is needed to ensure that older people have their digital security protected from scams and other fraudulent action.
- More research is needed to better understand the issues of why digital exclusion is a major problem for older people.
- Local Authorities to support Community Hubs and public libraries, to enable older people to accessing support. In rural areas with mobile libraries reserve space for information points.
- Local Authorities work with Third Sector and donors to operate DIGITAL loan schemes.
- Welsh Government to encourage all public bodies to invest in digital champions as part of customer service
Despite the initiatives in Wales to promote digital inclusion of older people in Wales there is a lot more that needs to be done to address unequal access to digital technology in society and the economy. Addressing the digital divide is a matter of promoting social equity and ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate fully in the digital age. At the same time, it should be acknowledged that there are a significant number of people who chose not to use digital technology and it is essential that non-digital alternatives are always available.