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Public sector not considering the elderly in development of digital services

A study by software firm Civica found public sector leaders have admitted to not targeting digital services at those over 70, despite many people this age claiming to use digital technology

Public sector leaders have admitted many digital services are not aimed at people aged over 70s, according to a study by Civica.

The software development firm found many of those over the age of 70 use smartphones or laptops, but public sector leaders are still not targeting them when making online services.

Highlighting the increased use of technology during the coronavirus pandemic, Tony Hughes, executive director for local government at Civica, said that while technology has helped fill the “emotional and practical void created by the lack of human interaction” during the outbreak, this can’t be the case for everyone if services are not designed to include all groups.

“Our research shows that the over 70s appreciate and enjoy using online services,” he said. “They are equipped, savvy and ready to engage. Public services are playing a vital role in delivering services in these exceptional circumstances, and the findings give leaders reassurance that technology can further support this age group.”

“With the over 70s accounting for 15% of the UK population – almost nine million people and growing – it should be a priority for all organisations to ensure this generation is factored into new digital developments and current online offerings. This is especially important as we move out of Covid-19 restrictions, providing public sector organisations with the chance to rethink and reshape services in light of new and current needs.”

The research found 65% of over 70s use a smartphone every day, and 84% are comfortable using a laptop, but 46% of public sector leaders said they have no digital services targeted towards this age group.

Just over 30% of public service leaders said they think about or involve the elderly when they are designing digital services for public use.

Many older people do not use technology or the internet, leaving them out of touch with the rest of the population in an increasingly digital world, which in some cases has been exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak shifting a lot of day-to-day activity online as people are asked to stay at home where possible.

According to Civica, those over 70 – though often left behind by increased digital adoption – are using technology, with a quarter owning a smart speaker, 67% having applied for official documents online, and 60% using digital services at some point to book doctor’s appointments, hospital appointments or repeat prescriptions.

Older people are also open to the idea of technological development, with 58% saying biometrics could increase security, and 60% thinking artificial intelligence (AI) could be helpful in the field of medicine.

Almost 80% of older people have also said the use of technology in the public sector has allowed better provision of public services, but only 34% think any digital interactions they’ve had with local government services are “very good”.

While 81% of public sector leaders ensure the public is involved in the design of services offered to them, only 31% of those citizens were 70 or older. But older people use different kinds of devices than the younger generation – 39% of those 70 and over regularly use tablet devices as opposed to 23% of those aged 25 to 34, and 29% of older people use laptops regularly as opposed to 35% of 25 to 34 year olds.

So if older people aren’t involved in the design process, there is a possibility the performance of services on the devices most used by older people won’t be as good as on others more commonly used by different age groups.

Focus groups run as part of the study found four key areas that need to be addressed to make digital services more accessible over 70s, including improved awareness of what’s available to them, confidence in online security, support in using services, and services designed to be inclusive and meet their needs.

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