The Deepening Digital Divide for Older People on Low Incomes

a fibre optic cable

There’s an assumption that everyone has access to fast, easy to use internet connections. That they can just go online to order groceries, and even medical care and advice.

For an increasing number of people on low incomes, as the cost of living bites in ever deeper to household budgets, accessing the internet in their own home is becoming unaffordable. And for older people, who may be living on their own, this increases their feelings of isolation.

The charity Independent Age says the findings from a YouGov commissioned poll has raised fears that the cost of living has deepened the ‘digital divide’ and warns that older people in financial hardship may become even more isolated and could face additional costs if they are forced to shut off their internet access.

The survey found that in Scotland 44% of older people in Scotland on a low income have struggled to keep up with their broadband bill in the last 6 months. And of those:

  • 18% found it a constant struggle
  • 26% struggled from time to time

The charity warns that not being able to go online could mean that older people on low incomes are unable to access information about financial entitlements or services, miss out on savings by not being able to search for the best deals and lose vital social connections.

The survey also found:

  • More than 1 in 3 (35%) older people in financial hardship said they are worried they will not be able to pay their broadband bill over the next 6 months.
  • 36% are currently having to cut back their spending on their internet, phone or TV subscription services a great deal or a fair amount.
  • Almost 1 in 10 (9%) have already cancelled broadband and phone services over the winter in an effort to save money and 6% had already taken this action before the winter began, to save money.

Morgan Vine, Head of Policy and Influencing at Independent Age, said: 

“The choice to engage online shouldn’t be taken away due to cost. We’re hearing from people in later life who are struggling to pay their broadband bills, cancelling their services, or making considerable sacrifices to afford this expense, such as going without fresh food. Cancelling broadband can mean someone misses out on the best deals, social connections with friends and family or on finding information about financial support they could be entitled to, such as Pension Credit or Attendance Allowance.  

“Independent Age is calling on broadband providers to do all they can to support vulnerable customers. We also think the Government has a role to play when promoting the options available now and thinking about consistency in the longer term. At the moment it’s a confusing picture for older people on low income, with each provider offering different options. While broadband social tariffs are available from most major providers, and can be a great help for those in financial hardship, take up is extremely low. Independent Age wants providers to proactively promote their social tariffs and target their activity at all eligible groups, including ensuring older people on a low income are not missed out.”

Social tariffs are cheaper broadband contracts for those receiving means tested benefits, such as Pension Credit (the State Pension top-up for those on a low income). However, current take-up is low, with just 5.1% of eligible households using them, and Independent Age say that eligible older people are going without as a result.

Details of all available social tariffs can be found on Ofcom’s website here :Social tariffs: Cheaper broadband and phone packages or people who think they might be eligible can contact their provider to find out more.

Social tariffs are cheaper broadband and phone packages for people claiming Universal Credit, Pension Credit and some other benefits. Some providers call them ‘essential’ or ‘basic’ broadband. They’re delivered in the same way as normal packages, just at a lower price. Amid rising living costs, Ofcom is encouraging companies to offer social tariffs to help customers on low incomes.

woman in brown shirt wearing eyeglasses sitting on brown leather sofa

Leave a Reply