A new report commissioned by Vodafone UK reveals that digital technology can help alleviate loneliness among the over 50s. The report was launched at the House of Commons last night with the support of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matthew Hancock MP and Loneliness Minister Mims Davies MP. It sets out how technology can play a vital role in alleviating loneliness in older people by keeping them connected to their family and friends for longer. However, it also highlights that a significant number of older people are not confident in using technology, including accessing the internet.

According to ONS data, a third of older adults (65+) identify themselves as only “a little confident” or “not at all confident” in their ability to use electronic devices for essential online activities. In response to this Vodafone’s new report, ‘Harnessing technology to tackle loneliness’, recommends increasing confidence using technology among this age group.

Following these findings, Vodafone is launching a nationwide programme of tech masterclasses. Vodafone’s free ‘techconnect’ masterclasses will take place across the UK in 2019 following a successful pilot last month.  At the masterclasses, Vodafone tech team advisors will provide information and advice on everything from ‘how do I set up my phone’ to ‘how do I use social media’.  They will also help set up wearable tech and connected home devices and explain how they work. These devices can help people live more independently for longer.

The report also highlights that technology could be used alongside more traditional community services to facilitate social interaction, and that learning how to use it more fully can reduce loneliness and promote an active lifestyle. This can help older people remain independent in their homes and communities and increase confidence and the likelihood of positive interactions. It can also help to maintain and build networks and contacts, with technology used as a way of keeping in touch with friends and family and accessing new communities and groups.

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said:”Loneliness doesn’t just have an economic cost—it has a profound human cost too, and can be hugely damaging to our health and happiness. It affects people of all ages and backgrounds and is something any of us or our loved ones could experience during our lifetimes. So it is important we do everything we can to reduce loneliness and isolation and provide help to those who need it.

“As people, we all need to feel part of something. This basic instinct of belonging and community is central to happiness—and is at the heart of our work across the health and care system.

“We launched our first ever loneliness strategy last year, and through our Ageing Society Grand Challenge we want to harness innovation to tackle loneliness and support healthy ageing. New technologies and services that can help people stay connected and independent will play an important role in this. We are also investing in social prescribing schemes through the NHS Long Term Plan to see healthcare professionals playing a vital role in signposting people to local services and connecting them back to their communities.”

Minister for Loneliness Mims Davies, said: “Loneliness is one of the most pressing public health challenges we face and technology has a huge role to play in bringing people together.

“Businesses, charities and government are working together to reduce loneliness and build more connected communities. Vodafone’s work highlights how digital tech can be a part of the solution.”

Nick Jeffery, CEO, Vodafone UK,said: “The cost of loneliness to the individual, their friends and the economy is vast. This cost is financial, emotional and physical. It requires a comprehensive response from government, charities, the health system and businesses. With an increasingly ageing population we have to act quickly and work together to help solve the problem of loneliness.  “Our report shows how technology and innovation, such as smart devices, as well as teaching tech skills can play an important role in reducing loneliness and enabling people to live independently for longer.”

‘Harnessing technology to tackle loneliness’ reveals insights into the impact on individuals, employers and the cost to public services such as the NHS. Public services bear a financial cost of £1 billion a year, with studies conducted at GP surgeries indicating that those feeling lonely are twice as likely to visit their GP and 3.5 times more likely to enter local authority funded social care. For businesses the financial cost of loneliness in the over 50s is £800 million per year due to staff taking time off work to care for friends and family suffering from loneliness.