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Benefits of Digital Inclusion – Why Get Involved?

The number of people in all age groups accessing the internet has risen during the last 10 years, but individuals aged over 60 remain less likely to access the internet than younger age groups. In effect, current cohorts of older people are missing out on one of the most widely used methods of social communication and a medium through which companies increasingly compete to market their services.

 

Furthermore, the move towards digital inclusion is a government priority. Policies relating to older people in recent years have been stressing the need to improve the quality of life of all older people, and for all to consider issues of engagement, well being, healthy ageing and self worth. Similarly education policies and discussion papers speak of the role and benefits of education in later life.

 

The cumulative effects of all these policies raises the profile of older people and their better engagement with the world around them and will impact on what is seen by society as acceptable standards of housing provision for older people. These trends will create a need for the better embracing of digital technology in sheltered housing as a tool in ensuring the continued place of older residents.

 

 

 

 

 

Benefits to Residents

 

  • Communication

The internet enables people to communicate with others in ways that they otherwise would not be able to. Email is a quicker (and cheaper) way of keeping in touch than sending letters in the post. Email enables people to send and receive messages instantly, and can include attachments such as photographs. Online instant messaging and chat tools also enable people to have conversations online in real time and internet telephone services such as Skype let people to talk to friends and family around the world for free, and if a webcam is available then these telephone calls can become video calls as well.

 

  • Access to information

The internet is an invaluable source of information on just about anything you can think of. Bus and train timetables, telephone numbers and addresses, opening hours, disabled parking information, television and radio listings, maps and directions, local events, restaurant menus and so on. The majority of information can be accessed quickly, easily and without cost (unlike many telephone information services).

 

The internet is also a useful source of up to date news, with many news sites such as the BBC being updated continually twenty four hours a day. The majority of newspapers, both local and national, have their own website and most of these can be accessed free of charge.

 

  • Access to services

Government and industry are expanding ever faster into digital services. Many doctors and dentists appointments can now be booked online, repeat prescriptions can be ordered online, road tax and TV licenses can be paid for online, council services (such as waste collection) can be booked online and so on. There are also free advice and information services available online, such as NHS Choices.

 

Other services, such as support services provided by charities are increasingly available online.  For example, Citizens Advice expects to help more than six times as many people (13 million) through its website than face to face in Citizens Advice Bureaux by 2014.

 

Online banking is now common and there are even banks and accounts which are only available online. Bills can be paid online, money can be transferred, statements can be checked any time and customer services can be contacted by email. This is particularly useful for people who find it difficult to get to a local branch of their bank in person.

 

It is becoming increasingly common for many services to now only be available online, and those people who do not have access to the internet (and the skills to use it) are likely to become increasingly disadvantaged in the future.

 

  • Reducing social isolation

Access to the internet can provide a lifeline from social isolation for those with out close friends and family to visit. Around half of all internet users say that using the internet increases their contact with friends or family who live further away. There are now 2 million active users of Facebook in the UK who are over 50 years old. Facebook, and other social networking sites, can be used to keep in contact with family and friends and join groups of interest, such as local groups online.

 

There are also many online communities and forums which people can join and take part in. Some online communities focus on particular hobbies or interests, such as gardening or astronomy, others focus on issues or campaigns, for example human rights or local projects. Many groups, such as book clubs and walking groups also use the internet to keep in touch between meetings, to share news and photos and discuss upcoming events.

 

  • Access to learning opportunities

There is a wide range of learning opportunities available online. These include formal courses and qualifications as well as a wealth of non formal courses and informal activities. Some courses will cost money, but there are many opportunities to take part in online courses or learning activities for free.

 

  • Ability to pursue hobbies and interests and play games

As mentioned above there are many online communities (free to join) which focus on particular hobbies and interests. People can discuss their hobby or interest with others in forums, share news and ideas, and ask and answer questions. Many people also now write blogs (online journals), and follow the blogs of others. Digital technology can also enhance existing hobbies, interests and activities. For example a digital camera or digital video camera can be used to take photos of or record events, activities or day trips out.

 

Games such as Chess, Solitaire and Bingo can be played on a computer (either with or without internet connection). Games consoles can also be an alternative way for people to continue playing games they enjoy (consoles such as the Nintendo Wii include games and sports such as ten pin bowling, golf and tennis).

 

  • Saving money

Offline households are missing out on average consumer savings of £560 per year.

Many retailers and utility companies now offer discounts when goods and services are purchased online. There are also a number of price comparison sites which enable people to find the product or service they are looking for at the cheapest price. Some sites even offer cash back, when a particular good or service is bought online. There are also a number of websites and email lists which offer advice on saving money, and notifications of the latest deals and bargains. Some sites list “voucher codes” – codes that can be entered when paying for items online, to give a discount.

 

Benefits to Staff

 

All of the benefits mentioned above for residents also apply to scheme staff. They too will be able to benefit from a variety of ways to communicate, including the potential to use email and online forums to communicate with staff in other schemes – to share experiences, ask questions and find out about good practice. Staff will also have access to online information and be able to use the internet to search for any information they need, whether for themselves or their residents. Access to online services will also be of benefit to staff, as will access to online learning opportunities.

 

In addition to these benefits, a digitally included sheltered housing scheme may also present more opportunity for staff to spend time with residents. If more of the day to day administrative tasks, such as dealing with maintenance and repair requests are moved online, this will free up valuable staff time.

 

 

Benefits to the Housing Scheme

 

In housing schemes, landlords and managers have a crucial role to play in ensuring their residents do not suffer from the increased social divide which can result from digital exclusion. As more and more housing associations provide internet access and ICT support for their residents, those which do not will suffer market marginalisation.

 

  • Stay competitive

There is now an emphasis on consumer choice and a wide range of agencies providing advice and information on sheltered housing provision. In the future, potential residents will be more likely to come from digitally included households and will be expecting to have access to the internet either in their own rooms or in communal spaces. Those schemes providing this and promoting it will have a market advantage. New builds in the future will increasingly embrace more and more technological innovation and other older establishments will need to adjust to keep up.

 

  • Reduce costs

In financial terms, the health and social benefits of digital inclusion is difficult to quantify, but many believe that such engagement can help residents to maintain autonomy, promote well-being and, as a consequence, possibly reduce any health, medication or care costs.  Interacting and transacting with the government or large corporations through the internet can provide an enhanced sense of empowerment to residents who previously may have felt left behind and excluded. Enhanced empowerment and confidence is important to individual feelings of health and wellbeing.

 

  • Keep up with current legislation

In addition, housing schemes are required to keep up with current legislation. The NI assembly has pledged to introduce equality legislation that would prohibit age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services. This legislation is already in place in Great Britain and is supposed to be rolled out in 2012. It is possible that any overt exclusion of older people from information technology could be argued within these laws to be discriminatory.

 

  • Involve the community

A digital inclusion programme at your housing scheme is also a great way to involve others in the community. Informal tutors in the form of friends, relatives and young people’s groups can be enlisted to sustain the programme after the WEA tutors have finished the “official” training. The DAP can help your scheme to connect with young people in the area interested in doing this kind of intergenerational volunteer work.

Why Get Involved? 

digital_age_project_small
The number of people in all age groups accessing the internet has risen during the last 10 years, but individuals aged over 60 remain less likely to access the internet than younger age groups. In effect, current cohorts of older people are missing out on one of the most widely used methods of social communication and a medium through which companies increasingly compete to market their services.

Furthermore, the move towards digital inclusion is a government priority. Policies relating to older people in recent years have been stressing the need to improve the quality of life of all older people, and for all to consider issues of engagement, well being, healthy ageing and self worth. Similarly, education policies and discussion papers speak of the role and benefits of education in later life.

The cumulative effects of all these policies raises the profile of older people and their better engagement with the world around them and will impact on what is seen by society as acceptable standards of housing provision for older people. These trends will create a need for the better embracing of digital technology in sheltered housing as a tool in ensuring the continued place of older residents.

Benefits to Residents

Communication

The internet enables people to communicate with others in ways that they otherwise would not be able to. Email is a quicker (and cheaper) way of keeping in touch than sending letters in the post. Email enables people to send and receive messages instantly, and can include attachments such as photographs. Online instant messaging and chat tools also enable people to have conversations online in real time and internet telephone services such as Skype let people to talk to friends and family around the world for free, and if a webcam is available then these telephone calls can become video calls as well.

Access to information

The internet is an invaluable source of information on just about anything you can think of. Bus and train timetables, telephone numbers and addresses, opening hours, disabled parking information, television and radio listings, maps and directions, local events, restaurant menus and so on. The majority of information can be accessed quickly, easily and without cost (unlike many telephone information services).
 
The internet is also a useful source of up to date news, with many news sites such as the BBC being updated continually twenty four hours a day. The majority of newspapers, both local and national, have their own website and most of these can be accessed free of charge.

Access to services

Government and industry are expanding ever faster into digital services. Many doctors and dentists appointments can now be booked online, repeat prescriptions can be ordered online, road tax and TV licenses can be paid for online, council services (such as waste collection) can be booked online and so on. There are also free advice and information services available online, such as NHS Choices.

Other services, such as support services provided by charities are increasingly available online.  For example, Citizens Advice expects to help more than six times as many people (13 million) through its website than face to face in Citizens Advice Bureaux by 2014.

Online banking is now common and there are even banks and accounts which are only available online. Bills can be paid online, money can be transferred, statements can be checked any time and customer services can be contacted by email. This is particularly useful for people who find it difficult to get to a local branch of their bank in person.

It is becoming increasingly common for many services to now only be available online, and those people who do not have access to the internet (and the skills to use it) are likely to become increasingly disadvantaged in the future.

Reducing social isolation

Access to the internet can provide a lifeline from social isolation for those with out close friends and family to visit. Around half of all internet users say that using the internet increases their contact with friends or family who live further away. There are now 2 million active users of Facebook in the UK who are over 50 years old. Facebook, and other social networking sites, can be used to keep in contact with family and friends and join groups of interest, such as local groups online.

There are also many online communities and forums which people can join and take part in. Some online communities focus on particular hobbies or interests, such as gardening or astronomy, others focus on issues or campaigns, for example human rights or local projects. Many groups, such as book clubs and walking groups also use the internet to keep in touch between meetings, to share news and photos and discuss upcoming events.

Access to learning opportunities

There is a wide range of learning opportunities available online. These include formal courses and qualifications as well as a wealth of non formal courses and informal activities. Some courses will cost money, but there are many opportunities to take part in online courses or learning activities for free.

Ability to pursue hobbies and interests and play games

As mentioned above there are many online communities (free to join) which focus on particular hobbies and interests. People can discuss their hobby or interest with others in forums, share news and ideas, and ask and answer questions. Many people also now write blogs (online journals), and follow the blogs of others. Digital technology can also enhance existing hobbies, interests and activities. For example a digital camera or digital video camera can be used to take photos of or record events, activities or day trips out.

Games such as Chess, Solitaire and Bingo can be played on a computer (either with or without internet connection). Games consoles can also be an alternative way for people to continue playing games they enjoy (consoles such as the Nintendo Wii include games and sports such as ten pin bowling, golf and tennis).

Saving money

Offline households are missing out on average consumer savings of £560 per year. Many retailers and utility companies now offer discounts when goods and services are purchased online. There are also a number of price comparison sites which enable people to find the product or service they are looking for at the cheapest price. Some sites even offer cash back, when a particular good or service is bought online. There are also a number of websites and email lists which offer advice on saving money, and notifications of the latest deals and bargains. Some sites list “voucher codes” – codes that can be entered when paying for items online, to give a discount.

Benefits to Staff

All of the benefits mentioned above for residents also apply to scheme staff. They too will be able to benefit from a variety of ways to communicate, including the potential to use email and online forums to communicate with staff in other schemes – to share experiences, ask questions and find out about good practice. Staff will also have access to online information and be able to use the internet to search for any information they need, whether for themselves or their residents. Access to online services will also be of benefit to staff, as will access to online learning opportunities.

In addition to these benefits, a digitally included sheltered housing scheme may also present more opportunity for staff to spend time with residents. If more of the day to day administrative tasks, such as dealing with maintenance and repair requests are moved online, this will free up valuable staff time.

 
Benefits to the Housing Scheme

In housing schemes, landlords and managers have a crucial role to play in ensuring their residents do not suffer from the increased social divide which can result from digital exclusion. Housing associations which provide internet access and ICT support will become more & more attractive to potential new residents and their families.

Stay competitive

There is now an emphasis on consumer choice and a wide range of agencies providing advice and information on sheltered housing provision. In the future, potential residents will be more likely to come from digitally included households and will be expecting to have access to the internet either in their own rooms or in communal spaces. Those schemes providing this and promoting it will have a market advantage. New builds in the future will increasingly embrace more and more technological innovation and other older establishments will need to adjust to keep up.

Reduce costs

In financial terms, the health and social benefits of digital inclusion is difficult to quantify, but many believe that such engagement can help residents to maintain autonomy, promote well-being and, as a consequence, possibly reduce any health, medication or care costs.  Interacting and transacting with the government or large corporations through the internet can provide an enhanced sense of empowerment to residents who previously may have felt left behind and excluded. Enhanced empowerment and confidence is important to individual feelings of health and wellbeing.

Keep up with current legislation

In addition, housing schemes are required to keep up with current legislation. The NI assembly has pledged to introduce equality legislation that would prohibit age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services. This legislation is already in place in Great Britain and is supposed to be rolled out in 2012. It is possible that any overt exclusion of older people from information technology could be argued within these laws to be discriminatory.

Involve the community

A digital inclusion programme at your housing scheme is also a great way to involve others in the community. Informal tutors in the form of friends, relatives and young people’s groups can be enlisted to sustain the programme after the WEA tutors have finished the “official” training. The Digital Age Programme can help your scheme to connect with young people in the area interested in doing this kind of intergenerational volunteer work.

 

 

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