Tony Hughes, Executive Director for Local Government, Civica explores the role of technology in keeping people safe and better connected as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
The world is still recovering from the first wave of the pandemic. For many countries, the focus has turned to preparations for keeping people safe during a potential second wave. For older generations and those with underlying medical conditions, the request to shield could return at any time. While no-one can predict how long this situation will last, we must use lessons already learned to protect citizens, particularly those who need more support. We can do this by equipping the elderly with the digital tools needed to remain informed and connected should we find ourselves facing another spike when winter hits.
It’s no secret that Gen-Z and millennials have grown up as digital natives and so pickup and embrace technology quickly. The over-70s are often dismissed when it comes to embracing new technologies. Yet while it’s true that not all people like to communicate online and prefer more traditional methods, during the pandemic many older people showed the opposite. They took part in online family calls, shopped online, used news apps to keep informed and booked their GP consultations online. This age group is digitally active and tech-savvy, with our new ‘A Word from the Wise’ research strengthening this view.
We found that two-thirds of 70+ respondents use a smartphone daily, 84% are comfortable using a laptop and 26% own a smart speaker, suggesting they are ready to communicate with organisations online. Instead of propagating stereotypes of a technophobe generation, we should look at how they are already using technology across their day-to-day lives. And how can it better support them?
We’ve all become more reliant on technology to stay connected. The pandemic has seen us pass the digital tipping point, ensuring technology will continue to play a more pivotal role in everyone’s lives. With public services becoming increasingly digitised, it’s never been more important to help upskill older people and make sure they’re aware of all the digital services available.
Our research suggests that many older people could be falling through a ‘digital gap’ with only 31% of public service leaders actively involving those aged over 70 when designing services. 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. It’s more important than ever to ensure this generation is factored into new digital thinking and current online offerings.
There’s no doubt that technology can play a vital role in keeping the elderly connected and safe. We discovered that close to 80% of the over 70s we surveyed believe technology is helping deliver improved public services. But without devoting a clear focus, this generation are at a heightened risk of missing out on the benefits of rapid advances in technology at a time when they need more support than ever.
As we all continue to adapt to a new and evolving situation, we must take learnings from the first wave of the pandemic to ensure that public services are fit for all, especially those deemed most vulnerable.
Originally posted here