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Tackling digital exclusion is everyone’s business by Heléna Herklots CBE, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales

An older couple engaging in a videocall on a tablet device

Until relatively recently, it would have been hard to imagine just how far the digital world would extend into almost all aspects of our lives.

For people with digital skills this can bring a range of personal benefits, as well as wider benefits such as cost savings that can support the delivery of services. It’s important to remember that many older people enjoy such benefits: stereotypes that older people are not interested in or are not capable of using technology are simply not true.

However, a significant number of older people in Wales – including a third of people aged 75+ – find themselves digitally excluded and increasingly face barriers when trying to access the information and services they need.

I examined what this means for older people in my recently published ‘Access Denied’ report, which is based on evidence shared by over 150 older people living throughout Wales, as well as information gathered from engagement event and through my Advice and Assistance Service.

My report highlighted a wide range of problems older people face due to not being online or having limited digital skills, covering everything from feeling pressured into using online banking, to difficulties booking healthcare appointments, to more day-to-day issues such as not being able to park the car or take part in social activities.

My findings indicate that any older people are facing significant digital barriers, which are affecting more and more aspects of people’s everyday lives and creating stress and anxiety when undertaking tasks that were previously straightforward.

This risks undermining people’s rights to access information and services and exacerbating existing inequalities: those who are likely to need services the most, who are also more likely to be digitally excluded, may find themselves essentially prevented from accessing them.

Many older people also appear to have resigned themselves to facing growing exclusion as they get older due to the impact of not being online, and seem to have ‘given up’ trying to learn digital skills or do certain things digitally.

This underscores the importance of the right kinds of ongoing support to enable older people to get and stay online if they wish to, something which I know DCW and its partners are already doing so much to deliver.

Similarly, a range of work is now being taken forward by local authorities and health boards in Wales in response to formal Guidance I issued in 2021 using my legal powers.

But much more needs to be done to protect the rights of older people who are digitally excluded and ensure people can access the information and services they may need.

Without action, more older people will be further marginalised as more areas of life ‘go online’, and people may find themselves unable to participate, without a voice or a say about their future, something that will leave us poorer as a nation in so many ways.

Tackling digital exclusion benefits us all: it’s everyone’s business. Because as technology continues to develop at a rapid pace and our circumstances change, perhaps finding ourselves without support from family, friends or colleagues, we may one day find ourselves digitally excluded and at risk of the social exclusion that follows.

But delivering the action I am calling for to tackle digital exclusion will help to ensure that Wales is a healthy and inclusive country that supports us all to age well.

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By Heléna Herklots CBE, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales.

Heléna is the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales – an independent statutory role established in law to protect and promote older people’s rights. She took up post in 2018 after over 30 years working on ageing and older people’s issues.

Full bio here.