Older people who are not internet-savvy risk being left behind as vital services increasingly turn digital amid the coronavirus outbreak.
With strict limits on movement and social contact, charities fear the elderly may be shut out if they cannot connect with loved ones or use services online.
While the proportion of older people online has risen in the last decade, people aged 65 and over are significantly less likely to use the internet.
Some 4.8 million people in the UK have never used the internet, of whom 80% are over 65, the Centre for Ageing Better said.
Patrick Vernon, associate director for connected communities at the centre, said: “The internet has become increasingly important to our lives in recent years – keeping us connected to people, services and information – and the coronavirus epidemic is set to dramatically accelerate this trend.
“As many of us increasingly connect to our colleagues, friends, and family online rather than face to face, there is a risk that those who aren’t internet-savvy are left behind.
“Our research has highlighted the importance of developing confidence in using the internet and offering personal, community-based support to develop these skills.
“In times like this, that support is more needed than ever.”
He added: “This is the time for internet service providers and digital companies to think creatively about how they can help people stay connected.”
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said: “Our use of technology is increasing exponentially as a result of this health emergency which is forcing most of us to stay at home.
“However, while some of us are thanking our lucky stars for Face Time, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and the rest, millions of older people are at risk of being completely left behind because they are not online.
From about the age of 75 upwards, the majority do not use computers of any kind, so it’s really important we factor this in and ensure different arrangements are in place for this group, so they do not miss out.
“The telephone still has a crucial role to play and we must not allow it to be entirely eclipsed as everyone searches for the best way of conducting normal business at this incredibly abnormal time.”
A spokesman from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “It is vital everyone is able to benefit from our world-leading digital economy, even more so during such challenging times.
“We are working in partnership with organisations across the digital sector and civil society organisations to develop innovative tech solutions and provide support to vulnerable people.
“The Government is in regular contact with Ofcom and the major broadband and mobile operators to ensure that networks remain resilient.”