Digital inclusion is failing older people, report says

Published by the Centre for Ageing Better, it says people over 55 make up 94 per cent of non-users of the internet, but digital-inclusion approaches tend not to cater for them

Charities and funders are being urged to rethink how they digitally engage with older people.

The Digital Age: New Approaches to Supporting People in Later Life Get Online, which was published today by the Centre for Ageing Better, says 4.8 million people over the age of 55 are not online.

They make up 94 per cent of all non-users of the internet and are likely to be poorer, less healthy and less well educated than their peers, the report says.

It claims that many existing approaches to digital inclusion fail to effectively target these people and suggests ways in which organisations could better help the ones who want to be online.

The report recommends moving away from offering basic digital skills in favour of enabling people to do more specific things they need, such as gaining access to information and services or cheaper goods.

"‘Basic digital skills’ are not ends in themselves and for many are neither the problem nor the solution," the report says. "Developing confidence to use the internet and a perceived value in doing so are the key issues to address."

The report urges charities to involve service users in the marketing and delivery of services.

The author of the report, Jemma Mouland, senior programme manager at the centre, told Third Sector that some charities already did this, but it needed to become standard practice rather than just good practice.

The document also recommends that charities collaborate with private and public sector organisations on digital-inclusion projects.

Funders, it says, should measure success by non-digital outcomes, such as improved access to health information, rather than on the number of people attaining digital skills.

It also recommends that funders include digital support in their social-inclusion programmes and invest in long-term personalised support even if it means reaching fewer people.

"A lot of current digital inclusion policy and practice misses the point," said Mouland. "It focuses on basic digital skills, when what’s needed is an urgent change in approach to help people build confidence and understand the value the internet could have for them.

"We need to rethink our approach or risk deepening inequality across our society."

The centre, which was set up as a charitable foundation in 2015 with an endowment from the Big Lottery Fund, commissioned the Good Things Foundation, a digital charity, to conduct research for the report.

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