A new report by Shirley Ayres for Nominet Trust outlines the issues we’re facing in an ageing society and explores the potential of online digital communications technology to address these issues. As well as Shirley’s invaluable insights, this report provides a comprehensive review of the evidence and research in this area and cites innovative projects already under way.
It focuses on well-being, independence and prevention through access, connection and inclusivity. She makes the vital point early on that digital technology cannot replace human contact, kindness, empathy and understanding but it does allow people to connect in different ways, quickly and easily.
Feeling connected and having supportive social relationships has a strong link to health and longevity. Isolation, loneliness, physical and mental health challenges are important social challenges facing society as a whole. And for older people in particular, isolation is a major factor impacting on their well-being and life expectancy.
Social media has made an impact on the way many of us communicate, collaborate and share knowledge and information – whether that is with friends and family, colleagues or complete strangers. Online engagement is a powerful way to draw connections between people that may have never met, but who share many of the same life experiences and interests.
Challenges for social care
‘Older people’ are not a homogenous group, they’re as varied in their needs and interests as individuals in any other sector of the population.
Technology provides many different ways of connecting people and resources. This should enable the design and delivery of appropriate care services that help to celebrate and value the life experience and wisdom offered by the older people they are supporting.
Shirley also addresses issues of digital inclusion. Government plans to deliver more services ‘digital by default’ have created challenges for social care including disparity of Internet access and digital literacy.
The use of technology for enabling social contact and participation can be very successful, but many older people need a little help to start using digital technology – plus ongoing support
The report calls for a more holistic approach to ageing, taking into account not only the complex needs of older individuals but also those of individuals with care responsibilities. It champions better integration of service provision and collaboration between the digital tech industry, academics, care providers and people who use care services.
Care and support in a digital society needs to have a different focus which challenges the perceptions of older people as being a ‘burden’ and promotes the benefits of technology to enable people to live more independent, safe and fulfilling lives.
She concludes with a number of recommendations, including:
- Developing from the ground up an independent Community Wellbeing and Social Technology Hub which takes advantage of the technology which it reports on and supports all stakeholders to to share resources in discoverable ways
- Carers and care seekers need to access information and support online more easily
- A more joined-up approach to digital inclusion and a more open way of working to avoid expensive and unnecessary duplication of pilots
- Digital tech innovation showcase events
The full report can be found here.
The Universal Credit (UC) is set to be the first Digital by Default public service – but those most likely to need it are the least likely to be online.
A press release issued today by the Local Government Association (LGA) begins,
In its recently published Digital by Default strategy, Government is proposing to deliver public services online by default. This will start with the proposed universal credit, set to replace child tax credit, housing benefit, jobseekers allowance, income support, working tax credit and part of the social fund from 2013. The target is that from 2015, the default way to claim will be online.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 8.2 million adults in the UK, 16 per cent of the adult population have never used the Internet. Disproportionately represented within this group are older people, disabled people, unemployed people, people in poverty and/or on low incomes, all of whom are more likely to apply for benefits such as the Universal Credit.
I’ve recently moved into a new house where, as you do, I’ve had to register with a gas and electricity supplier. Once I registered by phone, I got an email (below, redacted) asking me to activate my online account. I’ve posted it here because I think it makes a pretty good case for digital inclusion.
Dear Mr Grant,
Thanks for choosing [supplier], you’ve made a good choice. And you’re only two steps away from managing your account online. Just click the link below to complete the first stage of your registration. If your email client doesn’t allow you to click the link, please copy and paste the link into your web browser address bar and press enter.
Once you’ve clicked the link, we’ll send you a letter with a four digit activation code.
When you receive the letter all you need to do is visit our website [URL], select ‘log in’ from the home page and enter the code when prompted.
You’ll only need to do this once, so it’s important to keep the code safe.
Being registered online doesn’t just save time, but also makes things much easier to manage – by giving you unlimited access to all of your information from one central location.You’ll now be able to enjoy:
- Chatting to an adviser online with our live help web chat
- 24 hour access to your account –where you can view your details at any time, from any computer
- Access to up to three years worth of electronic bills and easily keep track of how much you’re paying. If you haven’t already – go one better by signing up to paperless billing – so you won’t have to file paper bills at home. You’ll also feel good knowing you’re doing your bit for the environment too.*
- Providing meter readings quickly and easily at any time of the day
- Making payments quickly and easily at a convenient time for you
Thanks again for choosing [supplier] and thanks for choosing the easiest and greenest way to manage your account.
The information in this email is confidential and may be legally privileged. It may not represent the views of the [Supplier] Group. It is intended solely for the addressees. Access to this email by anyone else is unauthorised. If you are not the intended recipient, any disclosure, copying, distribution or any action taken or omitted to be taken in reliance on it, is prohibited and may be unlawful. Any unauthorised recipient should advise the sender immediately of the error in transmission. Unless specifically stated otherwise, this email (or any attachments to it) is not an offer capable of acceptance or acceptance of an offer and it does not form part of a binding contractual agreement. [supplier] plc
Registered Office: [postal address]
Registered in [nation] No. [number]