More than two million pensioners could be ‘digitally excluded’ through not using the internet on a regular basis, based on a study. Researchers found people over the age of 65 had the lowest internet usage among the general population.
Their research, funded with a grant from the British Academy, analysed 120,000 replies from Ofcom and Office for National Statistics (ONS) surveys. The results from an ONS survey examining internet use before Covid revealed 18.4% of from 56,669 people aged over 65 had not used the internet in the previous three months, which would equate to two million of an estimated 11 million pensioners in the UK. In comparison during the same period, internet non-use among 16 to 24-year-olds was 0.5% and 2% for people aged between 25 and 65.
'What is so unfortunate is that the people who suffer the most disadvantages and really need these services are least likely to be online,' Charles Dennis, Professor of Consumer Behaviour at Middlesex University.
Charles Dennis, a co-author and Professor of Consumer Behaviour from Middlesex University, said: “There are millions of people aged over 65 who are digitally excluded which can in turn lead a loss of connection with friends and family, and ultimately social exclusion. The reasons are also unfortunately down in many cases down to motivation and there needs to be a real drive in communication and raising awareness among the older population of the many benefits of using the internet such as keeping in touch with loved ones.”
In ranked order the study found the biggest factors in low internet usage were: older age, social and economic conditions, disability, lower education-qualifications, and lower housing tenure (i.e. rental rather than owned). Additional factors such as older people or those with disabilities who are ethnic minorities and who live in the north of country compared to the south were linked to low internet usage. Results from an ONS survey analysing internet usage during Covid found people over 65 were more active online with 12.5% of 56,724 respondents having not used the internet in the previous three months, compared to 18.4% before the pandemic.
Despite the increase, Prof Dennis fears millions of people aged over 65 could be missing out on access to vital services post-Covid. Prof Dennis said: “The NHS are determined to deliver services online such as booking appointments and finding out results and the same applies to councils if you want information about council tax for example. What is so unfortunate is that the people who suffer the most disadvantages and really need these services are least likely to be online.
“If people aged over 65 knew they were missing out by being digital excluded then they would want to correct the situation. We could see this happening during Covid when people realised they would not be able to see their children or grandchildren if they were not online and so it became a big motivating factor which increased internet usage among the older population.”
The paper was lead-authored by Dr Akiko Uneo, an Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Bradford and co-authored by Prof Dennis and Georgios Dafoulas, a Professor of Information Systems and Business Computing at Middlesex University. It has been peer reviewed and published in the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change.