Increased use of digital technology puts older people at risk of social exclusion, warns Commissioner
A growing number of older people in Wales are at risk of social exclusion and being left behind as the use of digital technology continues to play an even greater role in our everyday lives.
That’s the warning from the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales as she publishes a new report, ‘Access denied: Older people’s experiences of digital exclusion in Wales’.1
The Commissioner is also concerned that older people’s rights to access information and services, enshrined in a range of human rights instruments and other legislation, are being undermined by poor quality or non-existent offline alternatives, such as face-to-face appointments, telephone helplines or paper copies of information booklets.
The report, based on experiences shared with the Commissioner by older people living throughout Wales, highlights that many older people are finding it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to access the information and services they need – including crucial services such as health appointments – while also facing significant barriers that can lead to or reinforce digital exclusion, such as maintaining digital skills, costs and concerns about security.
This puts older people’s health and wellbeing at risk, as well as often leaving older people feeling frustrated, inadequate and that their lives and experiences are not valued by society.
Older people highlighted a range of problems due to not being online or having limited digital skills. These covered everything from feeling pressured into using online banking, to difficulties booking healthcare appointments, to more day-to-day issues such as not being able to park the car or take part in social activities. People also shared that finding the right kinds of support to help them get online, including training and financial support, can often be difficult.
Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Heléna Herklots CBE, said:
“The ways we access information and services and the ways we communicate have changed significantly, particularly in recent years, and we’ve reached a point where being online isn’t only about making certain activities easier, but is now almost essential to enable us to participate in everyday life and do the things we need to do.
“I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who shared their experiences for being so open, and for providing such a powerful snapshot of what day-to-day life can be like for older people in Wales who are digitally excluded.
“It’s clear that many older people are facing significant digital barriers2, which are affecting more and more aspects of people’s everyday lives and creating stress and anxiety when undertaking tasks that were previously straightforward.
“This risks undermining people’s rights and exacerbating existing inequalities, as those who are likely to need services the most, who are also more likely to be digitally excluded, may find themselves essentially prevented from accessing them.
“It is also concerning that many older people appear to have resigned themselves to facing growing exclusion as they get older due to the impact of not being online, and seem to have ‘given up’ trying to learn digital skills or do certain things digitally. This underscores the importance of the right kinds of ongoing support to enable older people to get and stay online if they wish to.”
In addition to highlighting older people’s experiences, the report provides a summary of the work being delivered by local authorities and health boards in response to formal Guidance relating to digital exclusion issued by the Commissioner in 20213, and sets out a series of recommendations for further action to tackle the issues raised by older people.
The Commissioner’s calls for action from public bodies include ensuring that duties under the Equality Act (and other relevant legislation) are being met, alongside delivering practical support to get people online while continuing to provide information and services via non-digital means. In addition, she is calling for digital exclusion to be central to discussions relating to the design and delivery of public services, and for the voices of older people who are digitally excluded to be heard and responded to more effectively.
The Commissioner is also calling on private companies to take action to ensure that customers who are not online receive equivalent levels of service to those who are, and that customers who are digitally excluded, or find themselves in vulnerable situations are offered support, including help with costs.
The Commissioner added:
“The work being delivered in response to my 2021 Guidance is to be welcomed, but far more needs to be done to protect the rights of older people who are digitally excluded and ensure people can access the information and services they may need.
“Without the action I am calling for, more older people will be further marginalised as more areas of life ‘go online’, and people may find themselves unable to participate, have a voice and have a say about their future, something that will leave us poorer as a nation in so many ways.
“But by delivering action to tackle digital exclusion there are opportunities to help ensure that Wales is a healthy and inclusive country that supports us to age well.”
ENDSRead the Commissioner's 'Access Denied' report