Fears for over-70s struggling with digital isolation during lockdown

New research from BT Skills for Tomorrow suggests that many older people (70+) are suffering from a difficult combination of both physical and digital isolation during the Coronavirus lockdown.

A poll of 1,000 people who have a close relative over 70, found that less than a quarter believe their loved one would be willing to try a video call with a GP, with the majority prepared to wait longer to get a face-to-face appointment.

While some older people (27%) have ventured to the shops during lockdown, a third of those surveyed believe their relatives had put themselves at risk in order to purchase essential items on behalf of their loved one and nearly half those surveyed (49%) think it would be life-changing for their older relative if they knew how to order their own groceries online.

However, 41 per cent think their older family member has never made an online purchase, and half believe their relative is reluctant to try and learn new skills when it comes to technology.

The survey revealed various barriers to learning: more than three-quarters (76%) think their relative would consider it too complicated. A quarter think their loved ones feel the internet is unsafe (26%), 29 per cent say that their relatives haven't got anyone to teach them and 35 per cent aren’t sure where to learn these digital skills.

Nearly four in ten (38%) did say their family members would be more open to improving their digital skills due to recent events, but don’t know where to start.

Professor Kerensa Jennings, BT Group Director of Digital Impact, said: “Technology has become an essential lifeline for millions of people right now. But to combat loneliness, we must ensure that older people can take advantage of the benefits that technology provides, from accessing vital services to staying in touch with family and friends.

“We know that even picking up some relatively simple digital skills can make a huge difference to the lives of older people and those that care for them during lockdown – whether it’s doing their own online shopping, accessing health services or enjoying face-to-face calls with loved ones.

“While many older people are very confident with tech, it’s never too late to try something new. For others, it’s the first time they are accessing the internet. That’s why we are working closely with leading social change charity, Good Things Foundation, to ensure people can get the skills they need to stay connected and healthy during lockdown.”

The survey also revealed that six in 10 people believe their loved ones feel more isolated than ever before as a result of the global pandemic, and 53 per cent think they have struggled to adjust to an altered lifestyle due to coronavirus.

Email and WhatsApp are the digital platforms family members feel elderly relations are the most adept at using, with 39 per cent able to successfully set up a video call with their elderly loved ones. One in five over 70s are also able to stream through Amazon Prime or Netflix.

However, over three quarters (78%) said their family member consumes their information from television, with a third relying on their family member to update them on current affairs and just one in five going online.

Helen Milner, Chief Executive of Good Things Foundation, said: “The research supports what we’re hearing from our network partners and our wider findings on the issue of digital isolation. The people left behind are disproportionately older, often with existing health issues that are being compounded by a lack of confidence in digital technology. This is a deeply shocking societal problem we must all address urgently. 

“We know that due to the Coronavirus pandemic more people are willing to try new things online and improve their digital skills so this is the perfect time to give them the tools and guidance to do so.”

BT Skills for Tomorrow is giving 10 million people the skills they need to make the most of life in the digital world we live in. It’s completely free and designed to help everyone – from school children and teachers, parents and families to businesses and jobseekers – and anyone who needs support getting online to make the most of life. Working in partnership with leading digital skills organisations, BT have created and collated the best courses, webinars and information, in one easy to navigate place.

However, there remains a significant number of vulnerable people who do not currently have an internet connection or suitable device, making isolation particularly difficult. In order to address this issue, BT has donated 1,000 tablets with pre-paid SIMs to the Good Things Foundation as part of the DevicesDotNow campaign.

The Good Things Foundation is the UK’s leading digital exclusion charity and the key distribution partner for DevicesDotNow through their Online Centres Network. They are also one of BT’s existing partners through Skills for Tomorrow.


Notes to editors:

*Relatives of 70+ surveyed to avoid skewing results. As survey must be done online, the majority of 70+ respondents would have been significantly more tech savvy than average.

About BT Skills for Tomorrow:

Skills for Tomorrow is a major new programme from BT designed to empower 10 million people by giving them the skills they need to flourish in the digital world.

Anyone can choose from a range of free online or face-to-face courses designed to help people feel more confident and comfortable in the online world – whether you’re a parent helping your children understand online issues or a small business owner looking to grow your new business.

Skills for Tomorrow is designed to help parents close the digital skills knowledge gap and support them to speak to their children about important issues around navigating the online world.

BT has collaborated with leading digital skills organisations such as Internet Matters to collate the best courses and information, in one easy-to-navigate place.

About BT:

BT’s purpose is to use the power of communications to make a better world. It is one of the world’s leading providers of communications services and solutions, serving customers in 180 countries. Its principal activities include the provision of networked IT services globally; local, national and international telecommunications services to its customers for use at home, at work and on the move; broadband, TV and internet products and services; and converged fixed-mobile products and services. BT consists of four customer-facing units: Consumer, Enterprise, Global Services and Openreach.

For the year ended 31 March 2019, BT Group’s reported revenue was £23,428m with reported profit before taxation of £2,666m.

British Telecommunications plc (BT) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT Group plc and encompasses virtually all businesses and assets of the BT Group. BT Group plc is listed on stock exchanges in London and New York.

For more information, visit www.btplc.com