The digital divide
There are many social benefits to being online and connecting with family, friends and communities of interest across the globe. There are economic benefits in being able to take advantage of online goods and service offers. These parts of the ‘new normal’ of the pandemic include:
- shopping online
- completing forms or applications on websites
- using telehealth for medical appointments
- accessing digital vaccination certificates
- getting information for help and support online.
Many people previously not online adapted to digital devices for family connection and essential services during lockdowns. At the same time, the pandemic has exposed the extent and impact of the ‘digital divide’. While the COVID-19 pandemic showed the ability of some older people to engage with digital technology including attending online meetings, many have been left behind.
Given the rapid growth in use of digital platforms by banks, governments and essential services, many people need extra support to use online services and resources. The online world is getting more complex. There are many older people who need extra training, guidance and practical help to navigate it safely and securely. In every one of the Commissioner’s consultations held in 2019, people talked about:
- the lack of ability to use and keep up with technology
- the cost of maintaining and updating systems
- the difficulty of finding someone to help them improve their technology skills.
Many older people have safety concerns with using digital technology. This leaves them open to online exploitation and the targets of scammers. Targets often include:
- older women who live alone
- lonely people
- those with little experience of managing household finances.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reports that between January and September 2021 people aged 65 years or older lost the most money of any age group to scammers: in total, $49.1 million or 23 per cent of total losses occurred in that period. Helping older people to use digital technology and be in the online world includes training and information on cyber safety and how to detect and avoid scammers. The Victorian Government will continue to work with industry and Victoria Police to improve online safety for older people.
The Senior Victorians Advisory Group noted the digital divide as a key priority for government action. The Victorian Government has asked the Commissioner for Senior Victorians to review and provide further advice about how to improve the levels of digital connectedness for senior Victorians. This will include priority issues of:
- improving digital ability and building confidence
- affordability concerns
- addressing privacy and scamming protections.
Some people may never make the leap across the digital divide. We will ask government departments to develop options for alternatives to online access for services targeted to seniors. This will include key social services that currently only offer online access.
Reviewed 27 June 2022