The Scottish Government has worked in partnership with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations to support digital participation for all. So far, funding totalling around £1.5 million has supported 189 projects, 77 of which self-identify as supporting older people.
In addition, in direct response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the connecting Scotland programme was established with the aim of reducing digital exclusion for digitally excluded low-income people.
Phase 1 provides up to 9,000 digitally excluded people who are at high clinical risk with access not just to a device, but to internet connection and data, and to online training and support, for up to a year. Many households in that group comprise older people, and initial estimates are that about 40 per cent to 50 per cent of the people who are accessing the service are over 60.
Online platforms have provided a vital source of connection for people across the country and the world during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the Scottish household survey found that, in 2019, 57 per cent of over-75s did not use the internet. Age Scotland has said that about 100,000 older people in Scotland ate Christmas dinner alone last year. Many more might be alone this year, with community lunches and festivities being unable to go ahead. As winter approaches, what is the Scottish Government doing to ensure that older people do not face a socially and digitally isolated Christmas?
As our colleague Alexander Stewart, whose question I answered at the beginning of questions did, John Scott has made excellent points. We are taking forward all the issues that came up this morning at our national implementation group on social isolation and loneliness, and we are looking at what more we can do at Christmas.
Maybe it is still a wee bit early to think about what we need to do at Christmas, but John Scott made a good point about 57 per cent of the over-75s not being digitally connected. I wonder how many of them no longer get a free television licence. Maybe a lovely Christmas present from the United Kingdom Government would be the restoration of free TV licences for the over-75s.
Throughout the pandemic, universal credit has been a vital safety net for nearly half a million people in Scotland. The Scottish Conservatives believe that the universal credit uplift should continue for the foreseeable future. Will the cabinet secretary double down on her comments and work with me and my Conservative colleagues to urge the United Kingdom Government to make that commitment now, in order to provide the reassurance that many people across Scotland are looking for? After all, when both Scotland’s Governments work together, they serve the people of Scotland best.
I am quite happy to work with anyone in the chamber who wants to further the cause of people who are struggling with low incomes. With the greatest respect to Rachael Hamilton, I say that the issue is how her colleagues down in Westminster will vote on the issue, and what the Westminster Government’s action will be. We do not want continuously to have to have discussions that go on for months. They cause fear and uncertainty for people, although sometimes the UK Government eventually gets round to doing the right thing.
I am more than happy to work with Rachael Hamilton and others. However, perhaps the UK Government could have recognised the issue long before now—as we certainly did—and put the plan into action.