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2021 Virtual Retired Members Conference
25 June 2021
Carried as Amended


Conference notes the inexorable drift towards services and activities being online which has been markedly accelerated during the covid pandemic and its impact on the older demographic.

New analysis from Age UK shows that the pandemic has not in fact produced a sea change in older people’s use of digital technology and that there needs to be greater support for those who are offline and finding it increasingly difficult to access essential goods and services which could leave millions of older people high and dry.

The charity’s new report Digital inclusion and older people – how have things changed in a Covid-19 world? published in March 2021 shows that while 24% of over-75s in England have increased their internet usage since the pandemic hit, this is mainly driven by existing users going online more often. Indeed a few months into the pandemic more than two in five (42%) of this age group were still non-users – busting the myth that as a result of this health emergency ‘everyone’ is now online.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “These new findings debunk the idea that the pandemic has prompted a headlong rush online among our older population, and that once an older person starts to use computers they continue to do so and carry out an ever-wider range of tasks using technology. This will disappoint many businesses and policy makers who are keen to move to a digital approach, in the hope of cutting costs. However, our analysis shows that if we continue in that direction and do nothing else, we will simply marginalise millions of older people who either cannot or do not wish to use computers, many of whom never will.”

Whilst acknowledging that there has been an increase in internet use among older people, this is mainly due to existing older online users broadening their range of such activities rather than an overall increase by everyone in this demographic and that there are still almost two million over-75s who are not using computers at all. Indeed analysis showed that usage among those already online declined between 2020 and 2021.

Furthermore this apparent compulsion for everyone and everything to be online ignores several important features beside the fact that significant numbers of older people neither have nor use computers or smart phones:

1 affordability – many older people live on or close to the breadline and cannot afford computers and/or smart phones;

2 access – older people who may want to use computers will now find options such as public libraries either have fewer opportunities, have closed and have few if any staff available to assist;

3 IT training – older people will need training options which seem to be few and far between and rarely offer courses beyond Microsoft thus excluding anyone with other, mainly Apple, equipment. Such courses would need to be free or affordable;

4 social isolation – many older people live alone and find services and activities now being moved online an important means of social contact within their community;

5 choice – the move to do everything online seems to ignore the option for people to be able to choose how they partake of services, activities etc including doing so in person rather than digitally.

Conference believes that this issue needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency and the reality of significant numbers of older people being left behind in this one dimensional digital world.

Conference therefore instructs the National Retired Members’ Committee to:

1 liaise with the NEC about the impact of access to services & activities being moved online on older people, particularly the apparent lack of choice which will leave many excluded from societal essentials;

2 liaise with the NPC on this issue including working with Age UK as appropriate with reference to their report on this matter;

3 liaise with the regions to canvass opinion on this matter and if possible ascertain its impact on the union’s retired members;

4 report back to Retired Members’ Conference 2022.