Communication and information | Learning

Give me one good reason why I should get online

Why is it important to have a national campaign aimed at getting people online and why is it important for Age Better Sheffield to promote digital inclusion for older people as part of our programme? The answer for us is simple: getting online can improve the health and wellbeing of older people and have a positive effect on financial inclusion too.

By Hannah Thornton · October 15, 2019

Written by Gilli Cliff, Programme Coordinator

Get Online Week started more than 12 years ago when a date in October was first marked out to bring digital inclusion to national attention in the UK. Since then the campaign has grown into a week-long, annual celebration, with thousands of events taking place each year in communities across the UK, providing opportunities for everyone to find the help they need to improve their digital skills.

Age Better in Sheffield are pleased to mark this important week by sharing our report about the Smart Phone Smart Friends project. It highlights the value of giving older people the skills to get online and use social media to help them feel less lonely and socially isolated.  This blog also shares some of our learning about older people and digital from our other projects.

Why is it important to have a national campaign aimed at getting people online and why is it important for Age Better Sheffield to promote digital inclusion for older people as part of our programme?

The answer for us is simple: getting online can improve the health and wellbeing of older people and have a positive effect on financial inclusion too. However, there are 4.8 million people over the age of 55 who are not currently online while 80% of all UK non-users of the Internet are over the age of 50. Even more concerning is that half of those who aren’t getting online just don’t see the point and the majority say that nothing would encourage them to do so in the next 12 months.

The annual Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital Index is a rich source of data when it comes to understanding the progress that is being made towards digital inclusion in this country. In their report last year, they highlighted that of those aged 60 + who do go online, one in three said that combatting loneliness is a key benefit. Research conducted into older adults use of social media showed that an increased use of technology correlated with greater wellbeing, fewer depressive symptoms and reduced loneliness.

Motivating older people through our projects to get online is an important aspect of the work we do at Age Better. For Smart Phones Smart Friends, we commissioned delivery partner Lai Yin to deliver smartphone training to older people in the Chinese community many of whom had no social networks outside their immediate family. They were likely to be socially isolated from friends and family back in China or from family who had moved abroad.  An obvious way to connect them with friends and family across the world and to help them build new social networks was through social media but many of these older people lacked the confidence and skills to get online.

Training was offered through a series of four workshops which were designed to help them acquire basic digital knowledge as well as the skills to use a range of smart phone apps: WhatsApp; WeChat; YouTube; Google Translate; Google Search and Google Maps. An opportunity to try out these new skills came when each group was given a small budget to organise a social event among themselves using WhatsApp/WeChat to make the arrangements and then to share photos taken during the outing. One of the participants whose daughter is living in China said after the event,

After the group activity where I had lunch and took some photos together with other group members, I shared some photos with my daughter through WeChat. She was so happy with me and told me it’s a great opportunity for us to share our life online.”

Another of our projects, Community Connectors, delivered by Aspiring Communities Together in Burngreave also used WhatsApp to organise a group and share information with participants. These were older women from mainly Asian communities, often with low levels of literacy. Using social media worked well for this group because family members could also use it to read the messages on behalf of those who couldn’t read or didn’t have access to technology. The facility to use voice messaging through WhatsApp allowed the women to listen to messages which helped overcome literacy barriers. There is no doubt that for some older people in BME communities keeping in touch with family and friends who are geographically very distant is a powerful motivation for getting online. However, the benefits are also proving to be closer to home in allowing people who are housebound or socially isolated for other reasons to connect with new networks.

Overcoming the motivational barrier to getting online is one thing but older people are also more likely to have concerns about safety, fraud and data privacy in the digital world. Learning how to use social media also involves learning how to stay safe. For example, with Facebook it’s important to understand how to use privacy settings correctly and not to feel under pressure to respond FB’s suggestions of “people you might know”. Older people can be vulnerable to cyberattacks and online fraud and might be more easily persuaded to disclose financial information to online scammers. It’s clearly important that when we encourage older people to get online, we also take responsibility for enabling them to stay safe.

Age Better in Sheffield are keenly aware that digital exclusion can also lead to greater financial exclusion. Around 41% of local councils in England now say that housing benefit and council tax reduction, two of the key benefits to which older people may be entitled, can only be claimed through digitally enabled means. There is growing pressure everywhere to access public services online making it harder for older people to claim vital support.  The introduction of Universal Credit with its exclusively online application process has been criticised for adding to the digital divide by leaving those who lack basic digital skills struggling to apply. Two of our projects A Better Life, delivered in Burngreave by SOAR Community and Live Better, Get Connected, delivered by Reach South Sheffield in the Beauchief and Greeenhill ward of the city are exploring the links between financial hardship and social isolation.

Our projects seek to help participants manage their money better, apply for financial support where eligible and to take advantage of special deals such as lower fuel costs, all of which require getting online and having the skills to navigate websites and online application forms.

The Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital Index  reported an interesting digital trend this year: that those aged over 60 have made the most progress with their digital capability since last year. There has been an 11% increase in the number of those aged 60 or more who have moved online. Evidence suggests that this is largely driven by an appetite for online shopping and bargain hunting, but it does also indicate that older people will get online if they can see a good reason to. According to Jemma Mouland, Senior Programme Manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, the need is for older people to be enabled to do specific things online such as gaining access to information and services or cheaper goods. Rather than teaching older people basic digital skills the emphasis needs to shift to developing confidence to use the internet and a perceived value in doing so.

“A lot of current digital inclusion policy and practice misses the point. 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.”  Jemma Mouland

If, together, we can tackle the lack of motivation and give older people a reason to get online, demonstrate the value it can have for them and give them the knowhow to stay safe, then hopefully we can see this positive trend continuing and increasing year on year. Here at Age Better in Sheffield that’s a challenge we can get fully behind.