The rights of older people are in the spotlight at European level. Keep Me Posted EU welcomes this renewed attention and urges the European Commission to recognise older people’s right to choose between digital and physical communications.
Publication of the Commission’s Green Paper on Ageing is just around the corner (consultation ongoing), and in October the Council of the European Union adopted conclusions on the human rights, participation and well-being of older persons in the era of digitalisation. The specific challenges facing older people due to COVID-19 – relating to health and mental health, but also social inclusion – have also been well-documented since the onset of the pandemic.
Given that the digital transition is one of this European Commission’s two central policy aims, ensuring that nobody is left behind in the transition is critical.
Service providers all over Europe are increasingly pushing consumers towards digital communications. Some remove their paper offer completely, introduce a new charge, or reduce the frequency of paper communications. Others make it difficult to switch back from digital to paper. This is a growing issue.
Data regularly shows that older persons disproportionately use the internet less and have poorer digital skills than younger people (see Eurostat). This puts them more at risk of being socially excluded or increasingly dependent amid intensifying digitisation. As well as the need to improve digital skills in older generations, these findings show how important it is to simultaneously protect non-digital means of communication.
Even with demographic change, this is not a disappearing issue. The digital divide between generations is not closing as quickly as expected and it is not only older people lacking in digital skills. The number of people with insufficient digital skills has dropped by only 1% in the last 4 years, from 43% to 42%, and only 35% of those aged 55-74 and 30% of the retired and the inactive possess basic digital skills (DESI 2020). Moreover, we cannot presume that the digital divide will ever disappear completely given the fast rate of technological change. New tools will undoubtedly emerge which will maintain some level of digital inequality.
Protecting non-digital means of communication is the only way to ensure equal access to services for ALL people, regardless of their level of digital access or skills (and in this case, age).
According to the Council’s conclusions on the human rights, participation and well-being of older persons in the era of digitalisation, Member States and the European Commission should:
- “Ensure through alternative means that those who cannot fully use digital technologies can enjoy the same rights as other groups of the population” (Article 37).
- “Shape digitalisation with regard to, in particular, such public services as health, social and long term care services, in such a way that these services are easily accessible, user friendly, and as barrier-free as possible, while ensuring that non-digital services are maintained.” (Article 34).
These recommendations give clear impetus to Member States and the European Commission to protect non-digital forms of communication.
Keep Me Posted EU looks forward to publication of the Commission’s Green Paper on Ageing in 2021, in which we hope to see these recommendations – and the rights of older people – further reinforced. Because we all have the right to choose, whatever our age.
European Commission’s Roadmap and Public Consultation on Demographic change in Europe – green paper on ageing: https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12722-Green-Paper-on-Ageing
Council of the European Union’s conclusions on the human rights, participation and well-being of older persons in the era of digitalisation: https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-11717-2020-REV-2/en/pdf
AGE Platform Europe (Keep Me Posted EU supporter), Growing old in a digital world: https://www.age-platform.eu/special-briefing/growing-old-digital-world
Eurostat, Ageing Europe. Looking at the lives of older people in the EU, 2019: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/cache/digpub/ageing/
The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI): https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/digital-economy-and-society-index-desi
WHO, Older people & COVID-19: https://www.who.int/teams/social-determinants-of-health/covid-19