Despite older people embracing technology to take advantage of online services, a new study – A WORD FROM THE WISE – has found that just 31% of public sector leaders actively involve those aged 70+ when designing services and just over half (59%) have specific services designed to support this age group. This puts the UK’s older generations at risk of possibly missing out on the benefits of rapid advances in technology at a time when the need for online communications across all areas of our lives has become so acute.
The A WORD FROM THE WISE study by Civica, a global leader in software for public services, comprised of focus groups of over 70s from across the UK, coupled with surveys of UK adults and public sector leaders. It set out to turn perceptions of the elderly’s use of technology on its head – showing the vast benefits that technology can have for older generations and demonstrating their eagerness to use it.
UK’s older generations embracing technology
The research found a high level of technology usage for those aged 70 and over, with just under two thirds of 70+ respondents (65%) using a smartphone daily, over four in five (84%) confirming they are very or somewhat comfortable using a laptop and just over a quarter (26%) owning a smart speaker. The research also found that this age group are experienced online users of public services. Over two thirds (67%) have applied for a passport/driving licence or bus pass online (higher than any other age group) and three in five (60%) have experience in booking GP and hospital appointments or have ordered repeat prescriptions online.
The study also found the over 70s see the positive benefits in newer technologies to further improve public services. Around 58% confirmed biometric technology such as facial or fingerprint recognition can improve security, with a further 60% seeing AI enhancing medical processes.
Tony Hughes, Executive Director for Local Government at Civica, explains: “Our new research shows that the over 70s appreciate and enjoy using online services. 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.”
Include over 70s in service design
The public sector leaders surveyed confirmed 81% include citizens in designing their services. However only 31% of those citizens were aged 70 and over. This is despite the fact that the over 70s use tablet and laptop devices more frequently daily than those aged 25-34 (39% versus 23% respectively for a tablet and 39% versus 35% respectively for a laptop). It’s clear that this weighting must change to ensure that digital services meet the requirements of all people in society, including the growing aging population.
Julian David, CEO, techUK, explains: “Our members are committed to ensuring that technology makes a positive contribution, both socially and economically, to the UK and our newly launched Accessible Technology Group is at the forefront of championing this. The pandemic has shown the power of technology in keeping us connected with each other and this study provides a welcome insight into how we can build on this, ensuring technology is accessible for all to benefit. Public sector organisations have been extremely impressive at adapting to the pandemic, and as we look to build back better, I encourage them to take on board these valuable insights. techUK looks forward to working with these organisations, harnessing tech to deliver services that meet the needs of everyone in our society.”
Improving public services for everyone in our society
Overall, 79% of the over 70s feel technology has allowed public service organisations to provide better services to them. However, further support for this group is needed to help ensure a longer term and positive impact, as only 34% describe their online user experience with local government as ‘very good’. This compares to 68% who described their user experience with banking and financial services as ‘very good’ which claims the top spot in the study amongst those 70 and over.
By further supporting the over 70s, public service leaders can take further positive steps in improving the overall experience, while also delivering cost efficient services to a rapidly growing age group.
The study and focus group findings highlighted four areas to help the over 70s use more public services online:
- Awareness – improved awareness of the services available to them
- Security – the over 70s are very aware about privacy and data security issues, but need support to help improve their online confidence
- Accessibility – better connectivity and ease-of-use to help them better access services
- Inclusion – services designed with their needs in mind
Tony Hughes concludes: “The ‘stay at home’ messaging at the height of the recent pandemic has proved to us how well technology can work to try and help fill the emotional and practical void created by the lack of human interaction. However, it is incumbent upon all organisations to remember that, as we work our way through this, the use of technology is only going to increase and we must ensure nobody is left behind or unsupported in our communities.”