Are older Australians being shunned by the world wide web?

Now more than ever, being connected to the internet is not a luxury, it’s simply a necessity. And not just to stay socially connected, although that is important. More and more businesses and government departments are making services and information available online only, so having internet connectivity is a must. Actually, it is a human right.

Currently, around 3.6 million Australians, or 19 per cent of the adult population, are aged 65 and over. Just 51 per cent of them are internet users. Some of them are digitally literate with the help of friends and family, but the ones who don’t have access to this help are effectively shunned by a world where businesses and essential services such as banking, finance, health care, utilities and payment systems are administered.

And then there’s the social aspect. Some people are isolated or have limited mobility that prevents them from venturing into the wider community. Having internet access could at least assuage some of the negative effects of this isolation and ward off loneliness and possibly depression.

It seems that when the Australian Bureau of Statistics groups age brackets, it does so in 10-year increments for those under 65. Yet over 65-year-olds are lumped in with people aged up to 105, so it’s little wonder that only 51 per cent are deemed internet users.

Council of the Ageing’s Ian Yates makes the point that this could be ageism, and that more specific groupings would reveal a far more accurate indicator of digital use among seniors.

Still, it goes without saying that the internet should be an essential resource for older Australians. But do you have a legal right to web connectivity?

The United Nations Principles for Older Persons recommends that governments ensure their older population be able to access decent educational and training programs, remain integrated in society, be able to pursue opportunities for the full development of their potential and have access to the educational, cultural, spiritual and recreational resources of society.

So, while there may be no legal obligation for the Government to enable the recommendations, one could say that web connectivity is a human right.

According to CHOICE, there are other hurdles which prevent older Australians from accessing the internet. Some of these include:

  • the technology is unaffordable
  • there is a fear of being scammed. In 2016, over 65s lost $13 million to scams
  • a dislike and distrust of change
  • fear of looking foolish when trying to learn new technology
  • limited mobility means some people can’t attend classes
  • a lack of ‘senior specific’ plans
  • no one around to help them.

Considering the United Nations recommendations, one could make the argument that the Government could do more to ensure that older people have access to a world that is becoming increasingly more digital.

Opinion: Does the Government do enough to help you feel connected?

If having access to the internet is becoming so essential, and services such as MyGov, Centrelink and myagedcare are all becoming ‘more digital’, then surely the Government should do more to ensure that seniors have web connectivity.

A YourLifeChoices survey revealed that up to 70 per cent of  6753 respondents shopped online, with 65 per cent going online two or more times a day, and almost 40 per cent spent two or more hours a day online. Granted, this was a digital survey, so all respondents had access to the internet.

In 2016, the Coalition made grand assurances that if it were re-elected, it would ensure that $50 million was put into a digital literacy program for older Australians.

For many, that was the last they heard about it. And while it may seem as if the program has fallen by the wayside, as do so many political promises, the Digital Literacy for Older Australians program should begin on 1 October, 2017.

In the meantime, older people can access free computer training by visiting Broadband for Seniors kiosks located across Australia in community centres, retirement villages, libraries and senior citizens’ clubs.

But is it enough?

One of the more obvious factors preventing older people from getting online is affordability. Many age pensioners can’t afford decent food, let alone a computer. If anything, they may be able to afford a smartphone, and once they learn how to use that to access the internet and make calls, they could get rid of their landline. Anyone with an old phone should get a new one anyway, as the 2G network will shut down completely in September 2017. While, there are few affordable phone and data plans, Amaysim and Aldi offer pay-as-you-go plans.

As far as buying inexpensive computers, WorkVentures is a good place to start. It offers affordable reconditioned computers and laptops, and gives discounts to age pensioners and seniors card holders. Otherwise you could take your chances with Gumtree and eBay.

Maybe the Government could provide other incentives for seniors to purchase computers, such as tax breaks or a part refund for older people who have little income.

Maybe it could simply do more to advertise the services it does offer.

In a world that is becoming increasingly digital, it seems a no-brainer to make it as easy as possible for everyone, especially those who have not had the benefit of growing up with computers and the internet, to have the opportunity to be connected.

Do you feel connected? Could the Government do more to make sure you have internet connectivity? Do you feel you have a right to web connectivity?

If you ever have a technology question you like to ask us, please email [email protected] and one of our techies will do their best to solve your problem.

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?
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