Digital divide preventing older people accessing public services online
- Northern Ireland
- Republic of Ireland
A new report launched today (Friday, 25 October, 2013) by The Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI) finds that as governments move more services online there is a danger of a digital disconnect with many older people compared to wider society.
The report entitled “E-government and older people in Ireland, North and South” finds that while the numbers of older people with access to and using the internet are increasing these numbers remain low in comparison to other age groups.
For example, in the Republic of Ireland, 53% of 60-74 year olds have never used the internet, compared with 3% of those aged 16–29 (CSO, 2012).
In Northern Ireland, there is a signiﬁcant drop in access by older people, from about 90% at the peak ages (16-29 year olds) to only 24% for people over 70 years old (NI Continuous Household Survey 2010/11).
A gender divide is identified by the research particularly in Northern Ireland where a male head of household aged 70 and over is twice as likely to have internet access as a female head of household in the same age group.
Differences in access and use are also found between older people living alone and those living with others. In the Republic of Ireland, older people living alone are two-and-a-half times more likely to have a computer in the household than those living with others (56% compared with 21%). Similarly, people aged 65+ living on their own are more than two-and-a-half times more likely to have broadband access than people in the same age group living with others in the household.
The research identified barriers to online public service use among older people including difficulties accessing internet and broadband services, costs in gaining access to these services and ICT devices, lack of skills and availability of appropriate training, concerns about online security, and lack of confidence in using new technologies. The research also found that there was a lack of knowledge about online public services and how these might benefit older people.
The report was launched at an event at the Holiday Inn, Belfast. Speakers at the launch included the lead researcher, Professor Irene Hardill, University of Northumbria; Bill McCluggage, Chief Information Officer, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Ireland and Healy King of the Workers' Educational Association, Northern Ireland.
Speaking at the launch, Professor Hardill, said, “The research highlights that while there are clear cost benefits to moving public services online to do so successfully governments must take in to account difficulties experienced by some older people in accessing them. A comprehensive approach must be taken to ensure that older people have the access and skills to use online services.’
Professor Bob Stout, Co-Chair CARDI, said, ‘This research identifies barriers preventing older people from going online and with more public services making the transition online it is important that vulnerable groups likely to benefit from these services are not left behind.’
The report concludes with recommendations for service providers to encourage older people to adopt the use of online services. These include:
- Taking a ‘whole of government approach’ in online services and linking local and central government functions;
- The continued provision of focussed training schemes for older people as well as raising awareness among older people about the benefits of using online service;
- Conducting ongoing analysis of public websites and facilities in order to ensure that they are accessible and easy to use for all of the public.
Nicola Donnelly, CARDI Communications Officer, E: firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel: 00353 (0)86 2762397.
Professor Hardill is available for interview.
Internet access and use by older people
Republic of Ireland
- Just 21% of ROI households aged 60+ have internet access. This is below the EU average of 21% and well behind the UK at 38% (Eurostat, 2012).
- The ROI proportion of households with a broadband connection is less than those with an internet connection at 17% while in the UK the figure is 36% (Eurostat, 2012).
- Of those aged 60–74, 53% have never used the internet, compared with 3% of those aged 16–29 (CSO, 2012).
- Confidence using the internet declines with age 74% of those aged 25–39 feeling totally confident but and 60% of people aged 55+ feeling totally confident (Eurostat, 2012).
- Older people living alone in ROI are two-and-a-half times more likely to have a computer in the household than those living with others: 56% compared with 21%. Similarly, people aged 65+ living on their own were more than two-and-a-half times more likely to have broadband access than people in the same age group living with others in the household (Census, 2011)
- The two most common reasons for using the internet, for both age groups, were searching for information and emailing, but only 7% of those aged 65+ used e-government services (Eurostat, 2012).
- The main factor restricting use of the internet in ROI was lack of skills, cited by 46% of those aged 65+. Well behind, at 23%, was concern about privacy or security issues, followed by poor internet connections (21%) (Eurostat, 2012)
- Older adult households have the lowest usage of computers and internet in Northern Ireland (NI Continuous Household Survey 2010/11).
- While there is a gender gap in all age groups, it is more severe in the older households. Those aged 70+ in households with a male head of household (37%) are twice as likely to have internet access via home computer as those in households with a female head of household (18%) (NI Continuous Household Survey 2010/11).
- There is a signiﬁcant drop in access by older people, from about 90% at the peak ages to only 24% for people aged 70+ (NI Continuous Household Survey 2010/11).