What factors have impacted on older people’s (75+) access/experience of digital public services during covid-19?
What did we do?
We undertook a rapid review and a small-scale qualitative project to understand the factors - both the barriers and enablers - that impact on older adults (75+) access to and experience of digital public services.
Why was this important?
Digital exclusion affects many people including those on low incomes, those living in social housing, people living with disabilities, people in rural areas, people for whom English is not their first language, as well as other marginalised groups. Whilst these factors are important indicators as to who is digitally excluded, age remains the biggest indicator.
It is estimated that around 20% of the population in the UK (11 million people) lack basic digital skills. In Greater Manchester (GM), as many as 1.2m residents are estimated to be excluded in some way to digital technologies with a large proportion of these being over the age of 65 years.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the scale of the issue with many people essentially cut off during the early lockdowns. In May 2021, following his re-election as Mayor of GM, Andy Burnham, announced ambitions for GM to become one of the first city-regions in the world to equip all under-25s, all over-75s and disabled people with the skills, connectivity, and technology to get online.
How did we do it?
- In Phase I of the project we conducted a rapid review of literature which built upon the Digital Inclusion review conducted by the Older People and Frailty Policy Research Unit investigating the key issues related to access to digital technologies in published and grey literature over the past 12 months.
- In Phase II of the project, we conducted interviews with 3 groups of participants in GM. This comprised 2 groups of older adults (75 years and over) who were 1) enrolled in an established local digital programme and are successfully online and engaged with digital services or 2) who were not yet digitally engaged or were not interested in getting online. In addition, we interviewed community digital support officers in order to learn from the approaches they have used to continue to engage with communities during Covid-19.
The interviews explored a number of themes including what prompted older adults to join a digital programme or get online; what motivated their action; what kinds of public services they accessed online and why; what can we learn and share from their experiences; enablers that encouraged online engagement and barriers to engagement.
Here are the key findings from the rapid review work:
- Older adults are more likely to be digitally excluded than any other group. Although use of the internet is increasing across all age groups, nearly half of people aged 75 and over have not used the internet within the last three months, and over a third have never used it.
- Support should concentrate on helping people do the things they want to do via technology, rather than on technology itself. Relationships, particularly via peer mentoring, are important for helping people engage with support.
- More than half a million people aged 65 and over are ‘lapsed users’. As well as providing support to older people to gain digital skills, investment in services that enable people to maintain their skills would likely be beneficial.
- Policy makers and practitioner need to distinguish between unproblematic non-use of the internet and genuine digital exclusion
- Offline alternative must always be offered.
Here are the key research findings from the small-scale qualitative study:
- Over-75-year-olds are not an homogenous group, therefore the importance of providing public services access both digitally, but also inclusively with non-digital options being available, is vital to ensure digital inequalities are not further exacerbated.
- Building confidence in online activities is essential and includes activities such as claiming pensions and banking. This should include the delivery of task focussed support to develop skills; this needs to be repeated in line with technological developments.
- The role of the communications and messaging around digital technology use needs to be addressed effectively. Communications should focus on tackling older people’s concerns over scams, data protection as well as redressing the young-age bias in technology advertising.
- Consideration of the impact of digital technology on other policy ambitions is vital. For example, strategic objectives to enable older people to be more active or approaches to reduce violence in the home may be compounded by a shift to digital only appointments.
- Further learning across the realm of digital technology provision to understand what works could inform future development of accessible digitalised services, in particular further understanding of acceptance and use of online prescription ordering in over-75s.
The full findings for both Phase I and Phase II can be found in the report section below.
Who did we work with?
- Greater Manchester Combined Authority Ageing Hub
- Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership
- Factors impacting older people's (75+) access/experience of digitalised public servcies during COVID-19 (Dr Charlotte Eost-Telling; GM Connected Health Ecosystem Webinar, 6 December 2021)