Age UK warns of north-south digital divide among over 65s

The latest research from Age UK has found that there is a digital divide amongst older people using the internet, where those aged 65 and over in the south of England are more likely to be online compared to those in the north.

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The latest research from Age UK has found that there is a digital divide amongst older people using the internet, where those aged 65 and over in the south of England are more likely to be online compared to those in the north.

The charity’s data shows that older people living in Tyne and Wear are the least likely to be using the internet, with only 27.7 percent of those aged over 65 using the Web. This compares to some 63 percent in Surrey.

West Yorkshire also performed badly with only 29.7 percent of over 65s using the internet, followed by Cumbria with only 30.2 percent online. However, things appear to be more promising in the south of England with over 50 percent of older people using the Web in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Suffolk and Oxfordshire.

“It is concerning that in some parts of the country, more than twice as many older people are able to access the benefits of being online than in other areas, particularly as there appears to be a north / south divide around internet use amongst older people,” said David Mortimer, Head of Digital Inclusion at Age UK.

“The reasons behind this divide are wide and varied. We know for example that women aged 75 and over who live alone are the most likely group in society to have never been online.”

He added: “In addition, older people with lower economic wealth, those living alone and those in relatively worse health are far less likely to be online.”

Age UK said that the research sends a ‘clear message’ to the government, local authorities and businesses, which are increasingly focused on getting people to access their services online.

This is particularly true of central government, where the Government Digital Service has mandated that departments are to overhaul their legacy systems, implement innovative online products and make public facing transactions ‘digital by default’. It is hoped that this will save the public sector £1.7 billion a year by 2015.

The UK’s digital champion, Baroness (Martha) Lane Fox, has been working with the private sector and the government to tackle the digital divide, which she claims has created a £63 billion shortfall in the economy.

Her charity Go ON UK, recently unveiled plans to kick start a digital skills delivery strategy in the north-east of England.

Age UK is also running its annual ITea and Biscuits events this week to encourage older people to try out the internet and technology in their local area.

“We hope this data will highlight to the government, local authorities and businesses the work that needs to be done across the country to help older people to get online,” added Age UK’s David Mortimer.

“More services from the private and public sectors are moving online in a bid to make significant cost savings. However if they want older people to use these services, they need to help them get online in the first place with tailored and on-going support.”