The elderly should be taught basic digital skills to prevent loneliness

The elderly should be taught basic digital skills such as how to send emails, use search engines and go on to social networking sites in a new initiative to prevent loneliness.

Ahead of the launch of its Technology Manifesto, think tank Policy Exchange says that the entire British population should be online by 2020. It estimates that spending £875 million on educating the 6.2 million people who do not have basic digital skills – the equivalent of £141 per person – would lead to huge economic and societal benefits for the UK. Currently four out of ten people aged 65 or over do not have access to the internet at home, with over 5million having never used the internet

With the number of people aged 85 or above set to double over the next 20 years along with families increasingly living hundreds of miles from each other, the risk of loneliness is a major challenge for policymakers. It has been estimated that one in ten people visit their GP because they are lonely, and research suggests that lonely adults are more likely to undergo emergency hospitalisation and early admission into residential or nursing care. Addressing this isolation could prove to be one of the most cost-effective strategies for countering the rising costs of caring for an ageing population.

The think tank says that the initial investment channelled through organisations such as Go ON UK and the Tinder Foundation would be offset by savings of around £1.7 billion a year as people moved to digital rather than paper-based or telephone transactions.

Eddie Copeland, author of the report, said: “In an increasingly isolated and fast moving world it is vital that everyone in society is able to use the internet and understand its benefits. From alleviating social isolation, bringing together communities, paying bills and now accessing public services, online can improve lives. 

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