The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
Further information and booking details can be found here

New research from Age UK reveals almost 6m older people can’t access the internet safely

New analysis carried out by the charity Age UK reveals that almost half (46%) of over-65s in the UK are unable to complete all eight of the most fundamental tasks required to use the internet safely and successfully.  The figures also show, the worst effected of this group are those over the age of 75.

The Charity says this shows that the headlong rush towards ‘digital by default’ is excluding millions of older people from being able to access and use the essential public services they need – including some for which they are the target audience and principal users.

The research by Age UK found that among over-65s in the UK:

  • Almost one-in-four (23%) are unable to turn on the device and enter any account login information as required. 
  • Almost three-in-ten (28%) are unable to find and open different applications/programmes/ platforms on their devices (e.g. opening a web browser, messaging applications).
  • One-in-four (25%) are unable to keep their login information and passwords for a device and any accounts secure (e.g. not shared with anyone or written down or left prominently near a device).
  • One-in-four (25%) are unable to update and change their password when prompted to do so. 
  • Around one-in-five (24%) are unable to open an Internet browser to find and use websites (e.g. Safari, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge).
  • Around one-in-five (26%) are unable to use the different settings on their device to make it easier to use (e.g. adjust font size, volume settings, brightness of screen, voice activation or screen readers).
  • Around one-in-four (21%) are unable to use the available controls on their device (e.g. mouse, keyboard, touchscreen, trackpad).
  • Around one-in-three (35%) are unable to set up a connection to a Wi-fi network on their devices (e.g. when at home, work, out in public or visiting family and friends).

Although many older people fully embrace the digital world, digital exclusion increases with age.  Among older people in England who wished to use the internet more frequently, Age UK’s own research shows:

  • Around 69% of people aged 65 and over do not have good enough IT skills to do so.
  • Around 37% of people aged 65and over said they didn’t trust the internet.
  • Around 9% of people aged 65and over said health reasons prevented them from doing this. 
  • Around 25% of people aged 65 and over do not have good enough equipment and/or broadband access.

RSN Chief Executive, Kerry Booth, is welcoming the research and says the findings are particularly pertinent to rural areas:

“We know rural areas struggle with poor connectivity and access to decent broadband services.  This is an issue that transcends age groups.  However, what is alarming from the findings of this study by Age UK, is that our rural population is aging more quickly than our urban ones.  That means even if the government’s Project Gigabit is successful in delivering broadband to rural areas, many of those living there can’t access is safely. 

“I urge the government and its Connectivity Champion, Simon Fell MP, to work with groups like Age UK to address this issue now.  That way when rural areas do get the connections they have been promised, they will be ready and able to use the tools they are given.”

Age UK’s new research supports the Charity’s call for older people who cannot, or do not want to use the internet to have access to services and support in another way that suits them.   

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: 

“The figures we are releasing today should be a wake-up call for policymakers, because they show the alarming extent to which the rush towards ‘digital by default’ is excluding our older population. It is well known that millions of older people are not online and that’s bad enough, but now it is also clear that even among those who are online in this age group, the majority only have relatively limited digital skills. When you think about it this is not really surprising since they did not grow up with the technology and some have had only limited exposure to it as adults.

“The fact that so many millions of older people are unable to participate safely and successfully online is an inconvenient truth for governments and other organisations keen to slash costs by moving everything online, but it’s one we must confront and act on as a society. If we don’t, we are essentially saying it’s ok for legions of older people not to be able to do ordinary things like book a medical appointment, organise a blue badge for their car or pay to park it and surely that is totally unacceptable. It is at best infantilising older people and at worst erecting insurmountable barriers when it comes to them getting the essential services they need - including medical treatment, which is downright dangerous.

“At Age UK we think it’s time that everyone has the right to access public services offline. This is not being Luddite, far from it – as a Charity we run some brilliant digital inclusion programmes around the country – but rather a recognition that online methods simply are not working for millions of older people now and never will, and they should be able to choose to access public services in more traditional ways – by phone, letter and face to face, as appropriate.     

"That’s why we are launching a new public campaign, #OfflineandOverlooked, with two key asks:  

  • All public services, including the NHS, council services and other nationally provided public services, must be legally required to offer and promote an affordable, easy to access, offline way of reaching and using them, funded by central Government.  
  • The Government should lead on the development of a long term, fully funded national Digital Inclusion Strategy, to support people of all ages who want to go online to do so. [The last such strategy was produced in 2014].

“We are launching an online and offline petition and we hope that millions of people of all ages will sign up and join us in our campaign. As a Charity we have been inundated by complaints from older people who are deeply unhappy about organisations they engage with forcing them down a digital route, including from some in later life who use computers but who still prefer to talk to someone sometimes, over the phone or face to face. We have also heard from some older people who simply gave up even trying to access the service they needed because they couldn’t manage a more technological approach, which is undemocratic as well as extremely sad.

"We should be using digital tech to expand choice for people, not restrict it, but unfortunately the statistics we are drawing attention to today mean 'digital by default' hard wires discrimination against our older population and that's totally unacceptable.”

To sign Age UK’s Offline and overlooked petition go to:

People who are not online can also sign (or request a petition sheet to get loved ones to sign) by writing to: Freepost, Age UK campaigns.


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