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Stortford IT firm Genmar reaches out to the digitally excluded

Deal Centre for the Retired, Park Street, Deal. 14.06.06
Computer and internet training session for the elderly.
Photo by Barry Goodwin.(8185726)
Deal Centre for the Retired, Park Street, Deal. 14.06.06 Computer and internet training session for the elderly. Photo by Barry Goodwin.(8185726)

By Garry Moore, MD of Genmar IT

Some 5.3 million adults in the UK – that's 10% of the adult population – have never used the internet. And 20% of UK adults still lack basic internet skills.

You or someone you know will be one of the digitally excluded.

So what? Many people are happy not to have the pressure of learning such a new skill and many others see it as something they can well do without, something for the younger generations.

Among those not online, 60% say they don’t need it or cannot see the point, and most of the rest say they simply do not have the basic digital skills.

Well, if it were just that you were missing out on odd niche fantasies or spending 12 hours a day developing a thumb callus playing Candy Crush, I would agree that you may well be better off listening to The Archers or painting your dog. But the facts are that those who would benefit most are those who are being excluded.

As the Government moves to a self-service online model for benefits, people who are excluded will miss out on what is rightfully theirs.

Nearly 50% of those seeking help on tax credit issues do not have access to a computer; this is even more prevalent for those with disabilities.

This shortage of online skills is estimated to cost the UK GDP (Gross Domestic Product) £63 billion in lost growth and even save the average online shopper £560 a year.

The elderly obviously suffer more than other groups. We know this as our elderly workshop customers are a significant percentage of the total and many rely upon our help, providing confidence to access the benefits of being online. Not just to access the ever-growing online Government services, but simple things many people take for granted.

My mum is in her mid-80s, she has her iPad and can happily communicate with the grandkids at various universities about the UK. She has a reasonable understanding of eBay, as she likes ceramics and boot sales (she's a bit of a wheeler dealer).

But last year, by chance, we found out she was about to auto-renew her car insurance for the third year running, which this time had risen from £1,100 to £1,400. She did not know she could check and compare online and believed her existing provider when she was told the 27% increase it was due to higher costs at their end.

Thirty minutes' help later, she had signed up with a new insurer for £460. Relying on her pension and small savings to live, this meant a considerable saving of almost £1,000 and she can now afford an extra lump of coal at night.

So, “excluded” older people and the disabled are unfairly suffering while us “included” boast that we have found a cheap holiday to the Maldives for £1.50.

Saving money is not the only benefit the excluded are unable to take advantage of.

One of the major concerns the elderly and disabled report is that of loneliness. It seems surreal that in these days of 24/7 online interconnectivity, our elderly are suffering from loneliness more than ever.

I know from our own village Facebook page that concerned residents check on those in the village who they feel need an eye keeping on, which is a positive thing – but would it not be even better if those in need were taught how to join in and even teach others, maybe set up their own online communities, sharing and checking up on each other, assisting each other and making friends?

Genmar wants to help but we want you, our thousands of dedicated readers (yes, that means you, Colin), to let us have your ideas.

If you are one of the excluded, write to us, call us, let us know why you are excluded and what may encourage you to take the plunge.

If you are one of the included but want to help, even if it is just an idea you feel might work, contact us.

We have put out some feelers to local groups and plan to contact more soon to learn from them. There are some dedicated people already doing what they can, like KickStart run by volunteers like Peter Scarlett, who have assisted thousands of people in finding work with CV writing and online applications for over 20 years from the Methodist Church in South Street.

MP Mark Prisk made concerted efforts to bring the elderly together with willing schoolchildren to share their knowledge. The issue, as Mark points out, is one of how to sustain any momentum and the resources required.

Genmar are willing to commit ongoing resources such as introducing, advising and organising those groups and individuals who need help or can help. We are also willing to provide hardware and a venue, but to succeed long term we need you to provide us with your ideas and your time. So if we can supply the resources, with your help we can help encourage the momentum.

We appeal to any local groups in regular contact with the digitally excluded to meet with us, so if you are one, you know what to do.

Tip of the Month: The high monthly cost of broadband is a major factor for many, however it may be that by switching your landline phone or your mobile to another supplier then the cost could be much cheaper than you think. The Post Office has a deal at £17 a month (rises after 12 months) with no set-up fee, free hardware and unlimited. Please take advice before committing to a contract.

Best Buy: The cheapest laptops available will be used ones from places like eBay, but unless you know what you're doing or know someone who does, this is not recommended. There are reputable dealers selling very cheap second-hand useable systems with a one-year warranty for less than £100 that we can put you in touch with or brand new from eBuyer from around £175.

App of the Month: Get, and stay, in touch! Skype is free, and if you have a laptop with a camera and internet you can chat to anyone across the world for free with video. It's great for keeping in touch with friends and family anywhere. WhatsApp is also free and is a great tool for keeping in touch. Surprise your grandkids by contacting them – all you need is a smartphone, or PC/laptop and internet.

Want some free advice on any of the above? Call us or pop into our store.

+ Garry Moore is MD of Genmar IT, which is at Unit 12, The Links Business Centre, Raynham Road Industrial Estate, Bishop's Stortford CM23 5NZ. Phone 0330 445 1234.

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