The lockdown and other restrictions imposed to fight the coronavirus outbreak has accelerated shifts to more online and remote services for shopping, banking and even healthcare.
Meanwhile, high streets continue to take a battering during the pandemic, with South Shields town centre already having seen the permanent closure of its WHSmith’s branch and Debenham’s store since the start of the crisis.
But the increasing shift towards online shopping and services as prompted calls to ensure the borough’s most vulnerable families are not left behind by the digital tide.
“A lot of older people are frightened to engage with technology,” said South Tyneside Councillor John McCabe.
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“I know we’ve taken steps as a council to try and alleviate that fear, but I have another fear, which is an economic one.
“Online banking and online shopping is available, but I’m a bit of a dinosaur, in that I like to go out to the bank or to the shop.
“I’m interested in people in employment and that to me is more important than having a Zoom meeting.
“Technology is important, it’s the future, but there’s also a downside that people will become unemployed because their role will be superseded by it.”
Cllr McCabe also echoed his fellow Hebburn representative, Adam Ellison, who warned earlier in October that the closure of the town’s TSB bank branch would make it harder for older people to access banking.
He was speaking at a meeting of the borough council’s People Select Committee, which was held remotely and broadcast via YouTube.
According to a report for the panel, in 2017 the borough was considered to have a ‘medium’ risk of ‘digital exclusion’, a slight improvement from 2015 when it was found to be ‘high’.
The scale of the problem was also highlighted by the level of support South Tyneside received for households with school-aged children during lockdown.
Some 700 laptops and tablets and 130 wifi dongles were provided to families in the borough who did not have the necessary equipment or internet access for children to learn at home.