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Tech obsession leaves elderly on the sidelines

  • 30 April 2019


Australians have the reputation of being early adopters of technology. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics around 86 per cent of people have access to the internet at home.

Business people will have different smart phones for work and home, news is increasingly accessed online, teenagers have multiple interactions with social media. It seems that all the world is happily 'connected' — paying bills, shopping and banking online, and ordering food and transport with handy phone apps.

Despite such impressive internet use figures, it's not blanket coverage. There are groups disadvantaged by a technologically-connected world. Access in remote or very remote parts of Australia is 77 per cent, and as people age there is less take-up of the internet. For households without children aged under 15, 82 per cent had access to the internet, compared with 97 per cent with children under 15.

Some people are technologically illiterate or averse, some find they cannot afford to pay for connections, while others have no interest in internet access at all. This last group in particular, who are often elderly, is at a constant disadvantage in a world where government and other organisations have found an easy way to streamline processes and save money by insisting everyone go online.

Apply for your pension? No worries, just upload all the required documents on your phone. You need to declare your fortnightly income so you can continue to receive the pension? Not a problem, you can access Centrelink on an app — but don't forget to set up your myGov account first. Don't have an email? It's not that hard to set one up. Don't have a phone or internet at home? Why not?

Of course, it's a no-brainer for government departments to save costs and become more efficient by pushing mobile applications and the internet as the main point of contact. This however is a clear indication of a lack of care for certain vulnerable groups. At best it's a failure to imagine that some lives are vastly different. At worst it's a deliberate policy to make access to government help as difficult as possible.

There are people without access to the internet or knowledge to negotiate the often labyrinthine rules and regulations of government departments, especially Centrelink. Pensioners and other welfare recipients are required report their fortnightly income. If you don't have internet access you either visit an office (most often not an option) or you phone.