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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 July 2006, 23:21 GMT 00:21 UK
Older people 'missing out' online
Older people using the internet
Peer training can help older people get online
Older people are missing out on critical services because they do not use the internet, a report says.

Just 28% of people over the age of 65 have home internet access, compared to a UK average of 57% of households.

As a result, pensioners cannot access government services as well as the most competitive deals on commercial goods.

The findings are part of a wider survey by a consumer panel at telecoms regulator Ofcom looking at the online access of marginalised groups.

The survey also looked at online use by disabled people and those living in rural areas.

"Of all those groups it leapt out that older people were the least engaged," says Georgia Klein of Ofcom's Consumer Panel.

"With an ageing population and a need for a suitably skilled workforce, that is a real concern."

Fixed routine

The research also found that more than half of all people over 65 voluntarily excluded themselves from internet access because they see no benefit to the net.

However, more than two thirds of pensioners who are currently not connected said they would get online if they had the right support.

John Carbis
Anything new is treated with a modicum of suspicion
John Carbis

Specifically they said they wanted courses designed for and run by older people.

John Carbis, a retired Royal Engineer who supervises the cybercafe at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, agrees.

"There is a training need," he says. "Anything new is treated with a modicum of suspicion, which creates a barrier."

Mr Carbis now offers computer courses. Lesson one, he says is "pretty basic" and introduces people to the keyboard and mouse.

But once people have got the hang of using the computer they can move on to using the internet and writing e-mails. Once they've cracked that, he says, "they will never ever write another letter in spidery scribble again"

The hospital cybercafe has grown from four second hand computers three years ago to 10 today. It now attracts more than 60 regulars who come to e-mail and use the internet.

"Older people are set in their ways," he said. "It's upsetting that setting which is the major hurdle."

Missing out

The UK government has signed up to an EU agreement to halve the gap in internet use for groups at risk of exclusion, such as older people, by 2010.

It has also published a digital strategy to get more people online.

Help the Aged believes this does not go far enough.

"The government must revisit this strategy if a significant proportion of older people are not to become more excluded from society," says David Sinclair, senior policy manager at the charity.

Of particular concern is that more government services, including benefits, are being offered online and without training to access them many older people will miss out.

"There is a real risk that technology won't reach the most excluded and as a result we will see more instead of less digital exclusion," said Mr Sinclair.

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