By Zoe Peck
Half of UK adults over the age of 75 have never used the internet, putting 2.6 million people most at risk of loneliness and isolation¹ under recent lockdown measures that aim to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Older people are being encouraged to embrace technology in order to stay connected, but there are concerns from digital inclusion groups that lack of motivation, confidence and equipment may act as barriers to learning.
The latest figures released by The Office for National Statistics, as part of an annual survey about internet usage, showed that 47% of respondents aged 75 and over had never used the internet².
This figure rose to 52.3% for women over 75.
A separate ONS survey on internet activity noted that only 24% of men and women aged 65 and over “use video or voice calls over the internet (e.g. via Skype or Facetime.)”³
Mirella Carloni, 90, lives in Rome, Italy – a country badly hit by the pandemic, with just under 129,000 recorded cases as of April 6 and an ongoing state-enforced lockdown.
She recently started using WhatsApp video-chat to keep in touch with her granddaughter Claudia, who lives in London.
Claudia, 31, said: “She usually doesn’t know how to [use video-chat] but she’s been self-isolating since March 8 and she’s by herself.
“I think the loneliness pushed her to figure it out.”
Mirella said using video-chat is “not that hard as long as I put in a bit of effort.”
Faith groups play a major role in the social lives of many of the 4 million people aged over 65 in the UK who live alone .
Reverend Jane Nattrass of St Nicholas Church, Gosforth, recently led a church service for a congregation aged between three and 100 via group Skype call, for the first time.
She believes self-doubt and fear of technology as well as lack of equipment are factors which prevent older people from engaging with new forms of communication.
She said: “To get people to understand that they can do it has been a really tricky task to overcome.
“I hope that they will use [video-chat] now with their families – the ones that can’t go and see them because they’re isolated or in quarantine.”
100% Digital, an initiative which is part of Leeds Libraries, coordinate a city-wide digital inclusion programme aiming to give people the skills and confidence to connect digitally in order to improve health and independence.
Co-ordinator Rachel Benn said: “The three main barriers to [going] digital tend to be skills, access (to equipment and wifi) and motivation.”
She encouraged people to introduce older relatives to apps that reflect their hobbies, in order to create a positive first experience.
Cross Gates & District Good Neighbours’ Scheme, a community hub working with 100% Digital, has provided one-to-one training on how to use video apps such as Zoom as well as holding regular group video-calls known as “virtual coffee mornings.”
The training included awareness of online safety.
Benn said: “Whatever normal looks like [in the future], there’s no reason these [digital] sessions can’t continue, so if something like [a pandemic] happens again, we’d be ready.”
 Based on estimate of UK population 75 and over of 5.5 million. (Office for National Statistics. Estimates of the population for the UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, 2019.) Statistic  obtained by taking 47% of 5.5 million, rounded to nearest 0.5 million. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/datasets/populationestimatesforukenglandandwalesscotlandandnorthernireland Accessed 2/4/20
 Office for National Statistics, Internet Users, UK, 2019. Table 2A. https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/itandinternetindustry/bulletins/internetusers/2019. Accessed 2/4/20.
 Office for National Statistics. Internet Access, Households and Individuals, 2019. Table 10. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/householdcharacteristics/homeinternetandsocialmediausage/bulletins/internetaccesshouseholdsandindividuals/2019 Accessed 3/4/20.
 Office for National Statistics. Families and households in the UK: 2019. (Statistic 4 million obtained by taking 49.1% of 8.2 million total living alone in UK, rounded to nearest 0.5 million.) https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/families/bulletins/familiesandhouseholds/2019 Accessed 5/4/20.