Sandra White: A day to celebrate number of elderly online

Being online can help guard against isolation. Picture: Dmitry Berkut/Getty
Being online can help guard against isolation. Picture: Dmitry Berkut/Getty
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A key point raised in this year’s Scottish Household Survey came from the section on internet use. This found that, overall, 80 per cent of Scottish households had internet access at home in 2015, unchanged from 2014.

It also stated that the number of people aged 75 and over using the internet in 2015 had increased by a quarter on the previous year – now standing at 30 per cent, having been 24 per cent in 2014.

This takes on a particular relevance this weekend, given that yesterday marked the International Day of Older Persons.

This awareness day, organised by the United Nations, encourages people to stand up against ageism and challenges negative stereotypes about older persons and ageing.

The UN strategy on this includes the Madrid International Plan of Action, in which member states reaffirmed their commitment to human rights and tackling age discrimination, laying out the importance of things such as continuous education.

One stereotype of elderly people has developed around a perceived inability for older people to access the internet and interact with others online, an area in which continuous education can play a positive role.

Here in Scotland, this week’s Household Survey proved that great strides are being taken in order to increase the access that older people have to the internet.

This doesn’t just cover those over 75, but the survey also showed a growth in those aged 60-74 being active online, up from 66 per cent in 2014 to 69 per cent in 2015.

The rise of 6 per cent for those over 75, and 3 per cent for those between 60 and 74, is a positive indication that older people are becoming more able to access the same networks as those more accustomed to online life – and with excellent progress being made on rolling out superfast broadband and 4G coverage across rural areas of Scotland, older people in remote communities will increasingly have the same opportunities to access the internet as those in our towns and cities.

It is always important that we remember the many challenges that older people face, such as the threats of isolation and loneliness. This is crippling for anyone, not least someone who may be less able to be active and to get out of the house to see people.

The SNP is committed to tackling these challenges, and pledged to do so in our manifesto ahead of May’s elections, promising to develop a national strategy to tackle social isolation, which will be supported by a fund of £500,000 in 2016/17, as well as encouraging the use of the community empowerment fund for local projects to address isolation and loneliness.

Seeing the Scottish Government take this decisive action is very welcome, and naturally we look forward to seeing this develop in the future alongside existing commitments on energy efficiency to make homes warmer and cheaper to heat, and continued free travel and investment in free personal and nursing care. However, increasing access to the internet for older people in Scotland can help in these efforts by giving people an online community in which to interact.

Internet use by the elderly allows quick interaction at the touch of a button – whether that is through social media to keep in touch with friends and family, the availability of online shopping, or exploiting increasingly digital public services. This can be beneficial to the wellbeing of our elderly population and their interaction in society, and is why we welcome the figures published last week that show more and more people gaining online access.

As we mark the International Day of Older Persons and take heed from the United Nations which has called on us to “forcefully reject all forms of ageism and work to enable older persons to realise their potential”, I am glad to see our efforts in Scotland to provide greater internet access for our elderly population are paying off, allowing them to play a full part in our increasingly digital society.

Sandra White is the SNP MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, convener of Holyrood’s Social Security Committee and convened the Cross Party Group on Older People, Age and Ageing in the previous parliamentary session