So-called ‘silver surfers’ are being left behind as local authorities move their services online
The move to make public services increasingly available online is creating a ‘digital disconnect’ between local authorities and older people, according to an independent study commissioned by Fujitsu.
In a survey of 1,000 people aged 60 or over, only 15 percent said they had used a local council website to find information, and 65 percent said they would be in trouble if local council services were only provided on the Internet. This is in contrast to 55 percent of councillors, who said that accessing services over the Internet is not difficult.
“We need to be mindful that a significant portion of people living in later life are still missing out on the full benefits of online technology,” said Tom Wright, chief executive of Age UK.
Online services cost less
The decision to move public services online has largely been driven by the need to cut costs, in the wake of the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review. The report found that 86 percent of councillors agree that more people using the Internet to access their services saves their council money.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude also announced last year that public services transactions would increasingly be provided as online-only services – with student loans, applications for driving licences and jobseeker allowances being prime candidates for the move.
“The public sector is under immense pressure to make cost savings, create time efficiencies and enable better citizen experiences,” said Fujitsu’s Nicole France. “Moving as many services online as possible is one way to do it but this process has to be managed carefully and considerately.”
Fujitsu and Age UK are two of the organisations working to educate the older generation about the Internet and help them get online.
Rise of the silver surfers
The government’s “digital champion” Martha Lane Fox has also been doing a lot of work in this area, recently announcing the launch of the Digital Champion campaign, which aims to get 100,000 people, at work and in their spare time, to help others get online.
Research by Ofcom released at the end of last year found that the number of new broadband connections rose nine percent for the 65-74 age group and eight percent among over 75-year olds.
However, of the nine million people still not using the net, around 7.3 million are over-55, so the campaign is focusing on turning older people who don’t use the Internet into so-called “silver surfers”.
Fujitsu says that improving online engagement for public services relies largely on providing high-speed broadband across the country, as well as capturing greater volumes of data digitally and simplifying document management processes.
The research was carried out by ComRes and draws on responses from over 440 local councillors, more than 200 local government officers and 1,000 people aged 60 or over.