The COVID pandemic has shown both the best in our public services and the power of technology and innovative thinking. As the UK enters further restrictions, it is vital that we learn from the first wave and ensure that those most vulnerable – the elderly – remain safe and connected.
While we can’t ignore the mental health and social impacts for our younger generation who have missed months of education and training, the older generation are still at risk of being left behind. As well as the clear dangers the virus presents to this age group, the Office for National Statistics also found they were twice as likely to report anxiety during lockdown compared to young people.
Just like the younger generation, there are numerous stories of how the over-70s have embraced technology to engage with local services and communicate with their loved ones. Our own A Word from the Wise research agrees – those we spoke to said they were equipped, tech-savvy and had a strong appetite to engage more online.
The study, taken from research and focus groups with over-70s from across the UK, found that 74% own a smartphone and 65% use it daily, while 68% are very comfortable in using a laptop. The insights also found the age group is engaging with more and more digital public services. Almost half (49%) confirmed they have paid their council tax or a fine online, while 56% confirmed they prefer to engage with their local council through digital channels. And when it comes to using their data, 59% confirmed they trust their council to use it safely. Despite this, we still often perceive this group as not keen or lacking the skills to engage online.
Technologies such as mobile, cloud and analytics can help local authorities deliver better, faster and more efficient services. But despite being the fastest growing population – almost nine million and growing – just 31% of public service leaders actively involve over-70s in service design. We can all do more.
Local authorities have played a vital role in keeping citizens safe during the current pandemic. Our further new research in Northern Ireland, Passing the tipping point for digital, shows a third of citizens there believe the public sector could make better use of digital technology to enhance their lives and 26% now claim they trust government services more since the pandemic.
By factoring the over-70s more into both current and new digital thinking, local bodies can further keep them safe and connected, especially with a challenging winter approaching.
Tony Hughes is executive director, local government, Civica