Why older people should be getting online

older people online

MANY pensioners in the UK aren't going online because they think it isn't relevant to them; but there are many ways accessing the internet can have a positive effect on people's lives.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that more older people are getting online, but almost half of all single pensioners have never used the internet at all.

But research from the International Longevity Centre UK (ILCUK) has revealed the positive effects and social benefits going online can have on the elderly.

As we look at in more detail below, these include:

Reasons for getting online

Financial inclusion

As we've looked at in more depth here financial exclusion is the result of limited access to banking services and products. At best the financially excluded end up paying more than they could or should, and at worst they risk being socially marginalised.

While there are many causes of financial exclusion, digital exclusion is becoming a particular issue as more products and services become "online only" or "digital by default".

Research from the ONS, National Housing Federation, and the Tinder Foundation suggests that being offline can cost people an estimated £560 a year, by not being able to shop around or pay bills online.

Financial inclusion as a reason for digital inclusion brings:

Improving independence

Accessing the Internet at home can help to improve and extend the independence of people in a number of ways.

Money management and control

Being able to get online at home enables people to use online banking services as well as giving them access to free online money management tools.

Staying safe online

Having control over our personal finances is a vital part of feeling independent and being able to make informed choices, from deciding our own budget - one we know we can we can afford - to knowing when we have extra money if we need to buy or replace anything.

Being able to easily see and manage their own money also helps older people keep track of their income too: letting them see exactly when benefits and pensions are due, how much they'll be, and any changes to them.

This is going to become more important as the Government move more services online. But with access to the Internet people also gain access to a wealth of other tools, including benefits calculators and information on what other help and support they're entitled to claim.

Access to information

Probably one of the most fundamental reasons for the Internet is the access to information it provides.

As mentioned above, this includes being able to find out about personal finance issues, from pensions to benefit entitlements, greater knowledge about consumer rights when shopping or looking for requiring trade services, and even finding simple how to articles that make the Internet into one big Haynes manual for almost everything we own.

NHS Choices is another good example of accessible information online.

By the end of 2014, the site had registered more than one billion visits since its launch, and during 2015-2016 it was receiving 49 million visits per month.

So as well as saving the NHS an estimated £44 billion a year in avoidable GP appointments and A&E visits by redirecting queries to the website, research suggests that people using NHS Choices before going to see their GP feel more empowered and confident, and have increased knowledge about their health.

Of course, it's sensible to point out there is a case for finding the balance between looking up health information online and knowing when it's time to go to the doctor or pharmacist, or phone NHS Direct.

Often when we want to know something or we have a question about something, it's almost second nature to simply look it up online.

Not having access to the Internet means we're much more reliant on other people for information.

While that's not always a bad thing, it's empowering to be able to self educate and find things out for ourselves.

When, in 2012, ILCUK published their Nudge or Compel report, using the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing (ELSA), they looked into the correlation between Internet use and how in control people felt over various aspects of their lives.

The research found that people who used the Internet were more likely to feel in control of their lives.

The conclusion was drawn from the fact 71.8% of Internet users strongly disagreed that what happened in life was beyond their control, while just 28.2% of non-users felt the same way.

These findings were reflected at the other end of the scale: 39.6% of Internet users strongly agreed that what happened in life was beyond their control, but 60.4% of non-users felt that way.

Feels what happens in life is often determined by factors beyond control
Internet user Non-user
Strongly agree 39.6% 60.4%
Moderately agree 51.6% 48.4%
Slightly agree 59.4% 40.6%
Slightly disagree 68.2% 31.8%
Moderately disagree 77.3% 22.7%
Strongly disagree 71.8% 28.2%

Reducing care costs and reliance on others

We first heard of the idea through Jackie Grigg director of Money Advice Plus (MAP, formerly Money Advice and Community Support), who suggested that online grocery shopping could be used to help increase the amount of time carers could spend with their clients.

Because carers are often tasked with buying groceries for the people they're looking after, setting up a weekly online shopping delivery instead of going to the supermarket would free up the carer to spend more time with the client - improving the amount of direct care being provided.

Among the other benefits is, again, that sense of independence: people get back the experience of choosing and controlling for themselves what they want to buy for the week.

It's beneficial even for people who don't need care visits or who are reliant instead on family members for help. In fact, it could help to improve family relationships and enjoyable time spent together by removing a factor of dependence.

Reducing social isolation and loneliness

In early 2015, Age UK launched a campaign based on the idea that "no one should have no one".

They said 2.9 million people aged 65 and over feel they have no one to go to for support or help; of these 39% say they feel lonely, and 20% say they feel completely forgotten about.

Almost 70% of those Age UK spoke to said feeling they were a part of other people's lives made them happier.

Then there's the story told by Martha Lane Fox, founder of Go ON UK (now DotEveryone) about Mary, "a disabled full-time carer for her heavily disabled husband... sinking fast into a hideous depression until a local volunteer taught her how to use the internet. She told me it saved her life."

The audience of the 2015 Dimbleby lecture heard how through learning to use the Internet, Mary "felt her world expanded" and how she felt much more able to carry on thanks to "getting priceless support from new friends she met in online groups".

This kind of benefit isn't new; a paper published by the Department for Communities and Local Government some time before 2011, Understanding Digital Exclusion, had already shown the value of the Internet in reducing feelings of social exclusion, particularly by providing access to email and social networking sites.

Some of the quotes contained in the research highlighted how being online had increased social inclusion and reduced loneliness:

"I would miss the internet now if I didn't have it, whereas before because I didn't know about it, I didn't miss it. Because I live on my own it's company for me (like a member of the family) and I use it for hours most days."

"Going on the internet means I can keep up to date with what's happening where I used to live and I use it to keep in touch with family... My niece has been all over the world. And I have another niece in New Zealand. My nephew is climbing in Argentina and he has even sent me emails from Kathmandu. If he wants his mum to know something he emails me and I show it to her."

As well as using social networking sites and keeping in touch with family members and friends through Facebook and email, being able to access the Internet at home means people can also access and participate in forums ranging from those for support groups to those about shared interests and activities.

ILCUK's report also looked into how Internet use or non-use correlated to feelings of social isolation and loneliness.

Their findings found a strong association between non-Internet use and feeling lonely.

The table below, taken from the report, shows that most people who use the Internet "hardly ever or never" felt lonely, while people who didn't use the Internet were far more likely to feel lonely "often".

How often respondent feels lonely
Internet user Non-user
Hardly ever or never 60.2% 39.8%
Some of the time 51.3% 48.7%
Often 37.4% 62.6%

There were similar results when people were asked how often they felt isolated from others, taking into account their use or non-use of the Internet:

How often respondent feels isolated from others
Internet user Non-user
Hardly ever or never 59.5% 40.5%
Some of the time 52.6% 47.4%
Often 37.4% 62.6%

Improving quality of life

Research by the Economic & Social Research Council [pdf] into quality of life in old age found that wellbeing was primarily driven by psychological and social factors including independence and social interaction.

In fact, so many people cited retaining independence and control over their lives as vital to their sense of wellbeing that the researchers had to add them as indicators of a good quality of life.

Further information

But remember how we mentioned the benefits of being able to shop and set weekly budgets for themselves again: it's clear that getting online can increase or return a person's sense of independence and control over their own life, as well as reducing feelings of social isolation and loneliness.

Study after study highlights the significance of being able to get online, in these and many more ways - adding to the reasons why we should be doing everything we can to help older people get online.


10 September 2014
Matt Maddock

Which problem should be tackled first: the social exclusion or the digital exclusion? The nudge paper and this article suggests getting online will reduce social exclusion. Could it not be the case that those who don't have a network of people they want to talk to / things they do, don't feel the need to start going online and therefore won't learn about the useful things they can find? I'm just wondering if the relationship is not online leads to social inclusion but socialising leads to going online.

30 November 2013
Jeff Lowman

I could not agree more Choose Team. At Find HHA Training (link removed) we have seen time after time in our visits with HHAs that this is something that needs to be addressed on many levels. From protection to just making their lives easier technology has to become part of their lives. Thanks for the great article.

23 October 2013
Emma Freeman

I find it interesting that the most common reason for older people avoiding computers is not mentioned at all. Pure, common or garden, fear. I am a Digital Champion and I volunteer at my local library teaching beginners' computing to the over 50s and the most common problem is just nerves/ terror. Until we make the process of education more FRIENDLY, nothing will change.

29 October 2013
Choose team

Hi Emma, thanks for commenting on your experience.

We appreciate teaching online skills is fundamental to getting older people online. It's something we've tried to approach in our Internet safety for adults guide - which aim to explain in a comprehensive but accessible way many of the potential safety risks people can be afraid of and how to carry out the main basic online skills (of Go ON UK) - communicating, finding information and sharing personal information.

It's a three part series, and part one can be found here: <a href="http://disq.us/url?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.choose.net%2Fmedia%2Fguide%2Ffeatures%2Finternet-safety-email-communicate.html%3A8AMZpmfedYxC_Co8w9fvTE1NsJM&amp;cuid=2412393" rel="nofollow noopener" title="http://www.choose.net/media/guide/features/internet-safety-email-communicate.html">http://www.choose.net/media...</a>

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