Being online is for everyone - age shouldn’t be an excuse

12 Jun 2014 |Written by Charlotte Murray

I was interested to read this article in the Telegraph this morning, which says that all older people will have to go online or risk losing access to key public services, according to a speech made by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude to an audience of civil servants at the Treasury. Maude has promised that every older person will receive a one-off lesson in using the internet so they don’t get left out.

We’ve been working closely with government for a number of years on their Assisted Digital plans, and I’m confident that both the Assisted Digital and Digital Inclusion teams at GDS are aware of the huge challenges in getting everyone online, and the complex needs of people who don’t have digital skills. I’m also hopeful that they know that a one-off digital skills class isn’t going to cut it, particularly for those who have never used a computer before, have English as a second language, or who suffer from a disability of some kind. Part of our role is to ensure that government can understand the needs of those who are offline so they receive the support they need - and that some people may never use online digital services.

But I don’t think the negativity of this morning’s article is helpful. Whatever age we are, digital is here to stay. I know that feeling like you’re being forced to do something feels scary - particularly when you feel you may not be able to access what you’re entitled to - but this doesn’t mean the government should put the brakes on digital services. I meet people all the time who have had their lives changed by technology, whether by seeing grandchildren for the first time through Skype, or avoiding a difficult trip to the supermarket by ordering shopping online, and I’m a firm believer that the internet really is for everyone.

There are huge numbers of benefits to be had from being online - however old you are - and it simply can’t be avoided. The UK government is right to push forwards with its plans, not only to benefit the economy, but to benefit individuals as well.

We’ll continue working closely with government on their Assisted Digital plans, and I hope the UK online centres network will play a key role in them, supporting people to gain the skills they need to access online services. It won’t be through a one-off session, and it won’t be for a one-off transaction - like claiming your pension online. We’ll support people by giving them the help they need so they can use the internet in a way that really benefits them personally. This is the way we’ll really become a truly digital nation.