As an organisation working with and for older people, we are mindful that information about COVID-19, from official sources, suggests that older people, particularly people with underlying health conditions, are more vulnerable to the impacts of the virus. We want to ensure that we support older people during this time by;
1. Ensuring that older people have accurate and timely information about the virus
2. Playing our part to mitigate the risk of passing the virus to others, particularly older people and other vulnerable members of the population.
Acutely aware that many people, particularly older people do not have access to the internet, we have appealed for a dedicated Helpline for Older People to be established.
We are also asking people who are online to share the official HSE information with their older family members, friends and clients to make sure that they are informed.
Over half of Irish people aged between 65 and 74 have never used the internet, locking older people out of a huge range of benefits. It is not for lack of interest either: 30% of Irish households without internet access say the reason is a lack of skills to use it.
Simply, without the ability to confidently navigate the internet, a significant proportion of our population are effectively barred from being fully engaged members of society. A lack of digital literacy has a huge impact on the ability to access services and information, to stay independent for longer, to save money, to participate in the development of national policy, teach and learn skills, and stay connected to community, culture and news.The personal safety consequences of Government reliance on online communications are a real concern particularly in emergency situations.
Government’s consistent underfunding of digital literacy programmes is clear when we compare ourselves with other places. In the EU28, 37% of 65-74 year olds have never been on the internet, and in Britain this is just 16%, compared to 55% in Ireland. Where the percentage of those aged 65-74 who have never used the internet has steadily fallen in the EU28 by 25 percentage points from 2009 to 2018, in Ireland this rate has fallen by only 4 percentage points in the same time.
 Central Statistics Office (2018) Information Society Statistics - Households 2018. Available at https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/er/isshh/informationsocietystatistics-households2018/
 Eurostat 2018 figures. Available at http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/digital-economy-and-society/data/database
Ireland has an international brand as a tech leader, home to more than 900 software companies including some of the world’s biggest brands. Despite this image, current levels of digital literacy among older people continue to lag far behind our nearest neighbour and comparable EU states.
The data paints a picture of the inadequacy of Government spending on digital literacy for a changing population. For example, in 2009 Ireland was in a similar position to Austria in terms of the percent of people aged 65-74 who had never been on the internet, with Austria at 76% and Ireland at 78%. By 2018, in Austria this has reduced to 40%, while Ireland lags at 55%.
How to Help
Everyone has a responsibility to follow the official advice from the HSE to try to minimise exposure and potentially passing it on to others. We are also sharing the public health advice from the HSE with our staff and volunteers to ensure that we protect ourselves in order to protect the older people that we work with.
This is a health emergency that requires us all to work together – we don’t want older people to become isolated because they don’t have confidence that people are following the guidelines and protecting themselves.
If you know that there is an older person, particularly someone with health issues or someone with disabilities in you make contact with them. Make sure they have the information they need, check if they need any errands run and that they have what they need.
The Age Action Information Service is available Monday to Friday 9.30am – 5pm for people who want to talk through the HSE guidelines.
Phone: 01 4756989
People who do not have access to the internet can contact the HSE helpline on the following numbers;
Callsave: 1850 24 1850
Phone: 041 6850300
Monday to Friday: 8am - 8pm Saturday and Sunday: 10am - 5pm