Time to ensure older people gain the digital skills they need

7 May 2015

Whilst it’s true that the internet has transformed almost every aspect of public, private and working life over the past two decades, it’s also true that not everyone has been swept up in the digital revolution.   


Digital skills are critical for everyone now – and should certainly be thought of as THE third basic skill. However far too many people are missing out. The stats show that older people in particular are at the highest risk of digital exclusion. Analysis by Age UK found that whilst 13 per cent of the adult population in the UK have never used the Internet, the over 65s make up over 75 per cent of this excluded group – a total of almost 5 million people.


It’s fundamental that this figure improves. Research by Digital Unite of over 55s found that those who are using the internet, more than four out of five (86%) of them said it had improved their lives. 81% said that using the internet made them feel part of modern society and 72% said that being online had helped reduce their feelings of isolation. The ability to stay in touch with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – no matter where they are in the world – is often the primary inspiration for older people wanting digital skills.  These are all critical elements of improving health and wellbeing and quality of life in older age. 


With Government services increasingly being ‘Digital by Default’, there are also compellingly practical reasons to ensure older people and their carers have the digital skills they need to get online to access the services they need – particularly for Pensions, Health and Social Care.  Technology is transforming the face of healthcare and bringing huge benefits to patients – booking appointments online, ordering repeat prescriptions and improving access to information and services really have advanced patients’ health and well-being.  However, despite being the biggest users of health and care services, many lack the skills to take advantage of changes in the way healthcare is now being delivered. 


In Ten Policies for Ten People we propose that the Government should urgently establish a new £40m fund for an appropriate programme of Training to support Older People and their carers to rapidly gain the skills they need to access these and many other online services. Initially this could be delivered through public libraries and sheltered and residential housing providers – like the Get Digital programme – targeting those with the greatest needs. This commitment would send out an important message of intent at the beginning of the Parliament which would ensure that Government achieves the target set out in the 2014 Digital Inclusion Strategy – that by 2020 everyone who can be digitally capable, will be. Family and intergenerational learning can both also play a crucial role in hitting that ambitious yet necessary target.


Our inquiry into adult literacy in 2011 stated that addressing literacy needs was a ‘moral imperative’. The same surely applies now to digital skills. Without them people are already at a disadvantage. And as new technology develops and arrives at an ever increasing rate, the skills we have now will be out of date in the next few years. Older people deserve the opportunity to embrace, enjoy and excel at all the digital world provides. It is our duty to make that happen.


Find out more about this policy area here or visit our proposals page. Download Ten Policies for Ten People