Impact of Technology on Older People

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2019 National Retired Members Conference
7 June 2019

Conference notes the increasing use of technology in everyday life and its impact on elderly and vulnerable people. With moves to make most access to local and national government and many other organisations including UNISON only available online it risks leaving a significant part of the older demographic behind. Given that many older people either do not have a computer, smart phone or equivalent, their access to everyday services will be adversely affected and could result in them missing out on key necessities essential to their everyday lives.

In Leicestershire for example a new system of requesting repeat prescriptions is being trialled whereby patients must either do this online or go to, or telephone, their GP surgery. For many who have no computer or access to one this has led to more journeys to collect the prescriptions, more errors resulting in extra, unnecessary journeys and even for those with computers the process can be far from easy causing unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Conference is concerned that many government agencies are introducing online-only access, for example from this summer passport applications will only be able to be completed online. UNISON also requires all aspects of conference motions, delegate registration, reasonable adjustment requests etc to be submitted online through the Online Conference System (OCS) thus disadvantaging the many retired members who do not have computers or easy access to them. This concern is often dismissed and/or marginalised by comments that people can go to their local library (where they still exist) or for UNISON business, their branch office. Both options assume geographical ease-of-access, staff in situ who can help with the task and the member able to travel just to do this.

Whilst 21st century society would like to promote the use of technology for all and every service and make online the default position, it must take account of the significant number of people, particularly the older demographic, who do not have or use computers and find this whole approach bewildering, frightening and stressful. In short, technology should not BE the system, but part of the system.

Conference therefore instructs the National Retired Members’ Committee to:

1)Liaise with the National Executive Council on ways to address this issue including viable means for retired members to access online systems easily;

2)Liaise with other relevant organisations such as the National Pensioners’ Council, Scottish Pensioners’ Forum about ways to address this issue;

3)Ascertain the numbers of retired members who do not have or use computers;

4)Consider ways in which this issue can realistically be resolved ensuring that retired members do not continue to be disadvantaged by not being part of the computer society;

5)Report back to Retired Members’ Conference 2020.