Krishna was a dedicated worker who loved her job. Over time, she had built friendships at work and planned to stay until retirement. But one day, she sadly fractured her ribs and collarbone in an accident at work. As she recovered at home after a short stay in hospital, Krishna was asked by her employer to provide a sick note. She contacted her GP over the phone multiple times but was told she had to make an appointment online. She did not know how to do this and was unable to get a sick note. In the end, her workplace laid Krishna off, meaning she had no job. She had lost her friendship circle at work, and with no money, she was unable to engage in community activities to help build new relationships.

The internet can make life easier and help one grow through ever-increasing experiences, learning, and opportunities. Yet, in our ever more digital-first world, it can also act as a barrier, leaving those who are unable to access or use the internet behind in a cage, draining their independence, their social opportunities, and their ability to continue to be a part of and thrive in the communities and societies they live in.

In the UK today, around 4.7 million older people do not have the basic skills needed to use the internet successfully, and around 2.5 million are unable to complete tasks required to thrive in a digital society in day-to-day life. This can make it difficult to build and maintain the meaningful relationships needed to ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation.

For many older people wishing to attend activities, visit friends, or make a trip to the shops, the library, or other amenities, driving is convenient. Yet, the need to pay for parking using an app or a mobile has now made it near impossible. Many older people are unable to use apps or do not have a mobile, and finding parking difficulties is taking away their independence and imprisoning them at home, away from their friends and the activities they enjoy.

Our Age UK Digital Champions programme has shown since 2022 that many older people are keen to develop their digital skills, with many building the confidence to use video calls to talk with family and friends many miles away, to use an app to find when the next bus will arrive or a map for directions, catch up on programmes and order food online, use digital tills in shops, and even manage finances and interact with the health system.

However, there are still around 2.3 million older people who do not use the internet at all, whether that is because they do not trust it, they lack the confidence and skills, they have health or accessibility challenges, or they cannot afford the cost of connection or equipment. For these older people, it should be just as easy and convenient to live in the world today, and not find a lack of digital skills a barrier to developing the positive social connections we all desire to live as fun and happy a life as we can achieve.

Vinal Karania is a Senior Research Manager with Age UK.