Digital divide prevents elderly from accessing public services

25 Oct 2013

As governments move more and more services online there is a danger of a digital disconnect with many elderly people being unable to access public services, governments in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland have been warned.

“The research highlights that while there are clear cost benefits to moving public services online to do so successfully governments must take in to account difficulties experienced by some older people in accessing them,” lead researcher, Professor Irene Hardill, University of Northumbria explained.

“A comprehensive approach must be taken to ensure that older people have the access and skills to use online services.”

In the Republic of Ireland at least 300,000 elderly do not use the internet, according to the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI).


In Northern Ireland 235,000 people do not have internet access in the home.

A gender divide is identified by the research particularly in Northern Ireland where a male head of household aged 70 and over is twice as likely to have internet access as a female head of household in the same age group.

Differences in access and use are also found between older people living alone and those living with others. In the Republic of Ireland, older people living alone are two-and-a-half times more likely to have a computer in the household than those living with others (56pc compared with 21pc).

Similarly, people aged 65+ living on their own are more than two-and-a-half times more likely to have broadband access than people in the same age group living with others in the household.

“This research identifies barriers preventing older people from going online  and with more public services making the transition online it is important that vulnerable groups likely to benefit from these services are not left behind,” Professor Bob Stout, Co-Chair CARDI added.

The report recommends taking a “whole of government” approach to online services and linking local and central government functions as well as the continuation of focused training schemes for older people and raising awareness.

It also recommends conducting an ongoing analysis of public websites and facilities to ensure that they are accessible and easy to use for all the public.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years