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NPC summit calls for free broadband to end digital poverty and isolation among older people

**NEWS: Immediate Release**

NPC summit calls for free broadband to end digital poverty and isolation among older people

The National Pensioners’ Convention wants government action to provide free and safe access to broadband and computer training for all over 75s.

The NPC believes it is a ‘human right’ to be digitally connected in today’s world, and that just like the free bus pass, free broadband for older people should be a universal entitlement.

The UK’s largest campaign group for seniors heard evidence of growing digital exclusion and poverty from speakers at the NPC ‘Connections For All’ webinar on Dignity Action Day (1st February).

Figures from the Good Things Foundation* charity, who took part, show that 77% of over 70s have low digital engagement, while 51% of people aged 75+ do not use the internet at all, through lack of access, skills, or confidence.

Webinar speakers discussed the obstacles to digital inclusion for older age groups, as well as the need to offer choice and alternatives to digital solutions for those who cannot, or simply do not want to go online. They also agreed fears over online fraud was a substantial issue and that broadband providers, search platforms and social media firms needed to do more to monitor and regulate the activity of scammers.

NPC General Secretary Jan Shortt, who chaired the webinar, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how valuable the internet and online video apps are in helping older people to stay in touch with family and essential services while they shield at home. But the NPC believes many are getting left behind in the ‘digital first’ age. They are often digitally excluded, either because they don’t know how to use, or they don’t have or can’t afford the broadband and the digital devices to get online.

“We support the call by the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Heléna Herklots, and others who told the webinar that digital connectivity is a human right. The NPC will now be writing to the Prime Minister to call for a new policy to ensure broadband and mobile providers deliver free and safe internet access to all over 75s, and a ‘social rate’ for all other vulnerable groups.”

Aside from the Commissioner for Wales, speakers at the webinar included: Helen Milner, CEO, Good Things Foundation digital training charity; Jenny Haskey, CEO, Citizens Online digital training charity; Roger Jenkins, National Officer, GMB which runs the Save Our Cash campaign; and Genevieve Lloyd, Campaigns Manager, Which? whose Freedom to Pay initiative campaigns against the end of cash.

Opening the webinar, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Heléna Herklots, said: “Digital inclusion is an issue of human rights. We know how important being digitally included has been in the last few months in particular. But for those who are digitally excluded it has become a fundamental right. We need to recognise that being digitally connected is part of a necessary infrastructure, in the same way that it is to be able to get electricity or gas – it is that important.”

In Wales, the commissioner is spearheading a number of initiatives, supported by charities, like the Good Things Foundation and Citizens Online. Both charities explained how their digital champions across the UK realised patience and understanding were key to assisting older people to become confident on the internet.

The NPC Connections For All campaign aims to end digital poverty and exclusion, by promoting opportunities for training and access to free broadband and to digital devices. For example, Citizens Online have also just launched a Free Digital Support Helpline - 0808 196 5883 - to provide easy, one to one assistance for those with problems with their computers, their internet or even simply in getting online.

But the NPC is also concerned to discuss how the ‘digital first’ agenda of many businesses, utility companies, banks and even GP practices – and a move towards a cashless society - is seriously disadvantaging our oldest and most vulnerable. We strongly feel ‘choice’ in communications is paramount for us all, whether it is through the internet, the telephone or the post.

The webinar heard from both GMB National Officer Roger Jenkins, and Which? Campaign Manager Genevieve Lloyd, who discussed why their respective campaigns were pushing for government legislation to protect cash from disappearing from our society, as free ATMs are removed from communities.

The NPC General Secretary Jan Shortt thanked all the webinar speakers. The organisation will now be discussing next steps in their campaign.

A video recording of the Connections For All webinar is available to view here:

*Good Things Foundation: “77% of over 70s have low digital engagement; 51% of people aged 75+ do not use the internet at all, through lack of access, skills, or confidence.

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