One in six residents are not using the internet in Suffolk, leading to fears they are being left behind
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As more and more vital services move online, figures have revealed more than 15% of Suffolk residents have either never used the internet, or not logged on in the past three months.
The figures have prompted warnings older and vulnerable people are being “discriminated against” as more vital services move online.
The Office for National Statistics found 16% of people in the county aged over 16 have either never used the internet or last went online more than three months ago in the first quarter of this year.
Suffolk had the second highest rate in the East of England, behind Luton (17.5%).
The figure for Essex stood at 13% and the national average was 13.5%.
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Last year, then Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said older people must get “digitally engaged” after warning the majority of public services will be available only online in the future.
He said such moves would cut the cost of manning phone lines or face-to-face services.
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Steve Sheldrake, committee member for the Ipswich branch of The Oddfellows, said the “older generation is being left behind”.
He said: “The big thing we are concerned about is financial security: using money over the web, telling everyone your financial details or pressing the wrong button.
“It’s not as though we are not intelligent. The human psyche never changes – just the technology.
“Authorities have to bear some responsibility for people to use the internet in my opinion.”
Ministers are moving dozens of public services on to the internet, including carers’ allowance, driving licences and ‘lasting powers of attorney’.
If Ipswich Town reached the Wembley play-off final, the only way supporters could have bought a ticket was on the internet.
Andrew Gardner, chief executive of Age UK Essex, said: “The fact that a lot of organisations are moving their information purely to a digital forum means that people who don’t have access to the internet are digitally excluded and are effectively being discriminated against, and that group of people are some of the most vulnerable in society.
“Services (moving online) range from how you complain about planning applications to vehicle tax discs. Even HMRC are saying that very soon you can only do your tax return online.
“You are effectively pushing a whole host of the population to use internet cafes or engage with friends or relatives. It is a solution but it is not doing anything for the person’s self-esteem, who wants to live independently.
“I think it is incumbent upon organisations to ensure those people are included.”
Helen Taylor, information manager at Age UK Suffolk, said: “Many visitors to our information help desks in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft take advantage of the fact that the services and advice offered are face-to-face, and our staff can usually arrange for information to be provided in paper format, which is how many of our customers like to receive it.”
A Suffolk County Council spokesman said “significant savings” have been made through delivering services online but stressed face-to-face and postal services remain available.
A Suffolk Libraries spokesman said it is there “priority” to get more people to use the internet, saying they hold many internet taster sessions.