The Challenge – Written evidence (INQ0073)


About The Challenge and All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration

1      The Challenge is a leading charity for building a more socially integrated society. Through designing, delivering and rapidly growing a number of social mixing programmes, we have brought together over 225,000 young people from different backgrounds to develop their confidence and skills in understanding and connecting with others. In 2018 alone, over 45,000 young people participated in our programmes, which have included National Citizen Service (NCS) and HeadStart. We have developed a rigorous impact framework to measure the outcomes of our programmes, to ensure they foster meaningful social connections as effectively as possible[1].


2      Alongside our role as a programme delivery organisation, we also develop ideas to forge a more integrated Britain, in which people of all ages enjoy strong social connections with others. During 2014 and 2015, The Challenge convened the Social Integration Commission[2]. Following the Commission’s conclusion, we set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration, which is chaired by Chuka Umunna MP. The APPG has already conducted a full inquiry into the integration of immigrants into the UK, culminating in a final report published in August 2017. In December 2017, the APPG launched a new inquiry into intergenerational connection, which has explored the extent of the current age divide and how stronger bonds between young and old can be forged. The interim report ‘Healing the Generational Divide’[3] was published in May 2019, and will be followed by a final report at the end of this year. The responses in this submission are primarily informed by evidence gathered in the course of this inquiry.


6. What technologies will be needed to help people to live independently for longer, with better health and wellbeing? What is the current state of readiness of these technologies, and what should be done to help older people to engage with them? For example: 



3.1          As a leading social integration charity, The Challenge believes that more must be done to develop technology which strengthens social connections across society, including those enjoyed by older people. Evidence shows that building meaningful social relationships between those of different ages and backgrounds boosts physical and mental wellbeing, helping older people to live longer, more active lives. Where there is social segregation, anxiety and apprehension about people from different backgrounds increases, and fear of crime and ill-health rise. Lower levels of trust between neighbours can contribute to higher rates of cardiovascular diseases and mental health issues, while access to strong, diverse social networks has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of mortality[4].


3.2          In addition to social integration broadly, there is evidence that intergenerational connections in particular bring benefits for the wellbeing of older people. This has been found from research in the UK and abroad, carried out for example by Winston Churchill Fellow Lorraine George in the US[5], and at the intergenerational Apples and Honey Nightingale nursery in south London[6]. Within wider efforts to foster social connections through technology, there should therefore be a particular emphasis on building bonds between people across the age spectrum.


3.3          Through its role as secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration, The Challenge has learnt about a number of practical technological solutions for enhancing the social connections of older people. The APPG has been conducting an inquiry into intergenerational connection, and technology has been a key focus. In its ‘Healing the Generational Divide’ interim report[7], published in May 2019, the APPG highlighted a number of devices and tools through which older people could connect with others both online and offline. For example, the KOMP device developed by No Isolation enables older people to enjoy face-time with loved ones over long distances at the push of a button. And an app being developed by Lancaster University enables older people at risk of loneliness to access information about local events and activities, and transport routes to reach them. To boost the physical and mental wellbeing of older people through a well-integrated society, it is important technology not only provides a platform for older people to stay in touch with those they already know, but also to make new social connections with those in the wider community, as this app strives to do.


The current readiness of technology which strengthens the social integration of older people is in its early stages and limited to a small number of apps and devices. In addition to the app being developed by Lancaster University, the APPG has come across apps which more broadly bring people together for face-to-face interactions. These include Meetup, which provides information on a wide range of local activities for people to join in with, and Excuses to Meet, which invites users to select their interests in order to connect them with others who share their passions for one-on-one meet-ups. It is vital that apps developed with these intentions are made accessible to older people and provide ways for stronger social connections to be fostered across the age spectrum. We also welcome the newly-created Nesta Challenge to help fund technological solutions to tackle social isolation, which should have the improvement of older people’s health and wellbeing as a key aim.


3.4          The process of helping older people to engage with these technologies should begin when the technology itself is being designed. This process of co-design should involve consultation with older people about the kind of technology they would like to use, what its purpose should be, and how technology can help them lead active, healthy lives. There should also be a concerted effort to ensure all older people have the digital skills to be able to take full advantage of this technology. This can be achieved through a range of intergenerational programmes and masterclasses in which digital skills are taught in an environment in which people from across the age spectrum have a chance to socially connect. For example, such activities form part of the activity of The Cares Family, which brings young professionals and older neighbours together in London, Manchester and Liverpool[8]. Central and local government should look at ways they can support the learning of digital skills among older people.


7. How can technology be used to improve mental health and reduce loneliness for older people?


4.1          By strengthening the social connections of older people, technology can play a key role in helping to tackle one of the greatest social ills in our society today: loneliness. As highlighted in the ‘Healing the Generational Divide’ report[9] published by the APPG on Social Integration, nearly 20% of over-75 year-olds experience loneliness at least some of the time. We know that building strong social connections lies at the heart of tackling loneliness. Loneliness itself is defined as being “a mismatch between the quality and quantity of social relationships that we have, and those that we want”[10]. Given this, What Works Wellbeing recommend that approaches to tackling loneliness should “improve social connection, including trust and the feeling that you have someone to rely on”, rather than just tackling loneliness in a palliative way[11].


4.2          Technology can help to reduce loneliness for older people by creating stronger social connections both indirectly and directly. Technology can do this indirectly by providing older people with the tools to stay living independently in their homes for longer, and therefore stay connected to the community in which they live. The report produced by Vodafone UK in partnership with WPI Economics on ‘Harnessing technology to tackle loneliness’[12] contained some good case studies of this. For example, the V-SOS band developed by Vodafone enables older people to leave the house in the knowledge that, if they need any help, a family member will be alerted immediately. Such technology helps older people to live more confident, independent lives, and continue socially interacting with those in the local community.


4.3          We must also develop ways for technology to directly strengthen the social connections of older people to help tackle loneliness. Often, such connections can be built through mainstream technology such as Skype, which gives older people the chance to enjoy face-time with family and friends over long distances. As detailed in our answer to question 6, there are also a number of new apps and devices which have as their aim the creation of stronger social networks, including those with a specific focus on older people, such as the tools developed by No Isolation and Lancaster University. Efforts must be directed at developing this technology in a way that enhances the social connections of older people, not only online but crucially in face-to-face settings, too.


8. What are the barriers to the development and implementation of these various technologies (considered in questions 5-7)? a. What is needed to help overcome these barriers? b. To what extent do socio-economic factors affect access to, and acceptance of, scientific advice and use of technology by older people and those who care for them?


5.1          Currently, only limited funds have been directed towards technology which has the specific aim to strengthen social connections for older people. These include the government’s GovTech Fund, which is providing money for five technology companies working to tackle loneliness and social isolation in rural areas, and Nesta’s Tech to Connect Challenge, which is inviting charities and social enterprises to bid for a £1m prize to help tackle social isolation through technology. These kinds of initiative should be expanded to include a sharper focus on boosting social connections for older people, drawing on insights and evaluations from the GovTech and Nesta programmes.


5.2          Through research done for the APPG on Social Integration’s inquiry into intergenerational connection, we have found that a number of barriers currently exist to making technology fully accessible for older people. This is both the case for older people in general, and for specific groups of older people. At the moment, the technology sector is dominated by younger professionals, with a 2016 survey showing that the median age within the technology sector is in the late twenties to early thirties[13], and a study by the UK BCS: Chartered Institute for IT in the same year demonstrating that only 21% of IT specialists were aged 50 or above[14]. It would


therefore be unsurprising if ageist attitudes existed within the technology workforce, and skewed the kinds of technologies being developed in favour of younger people. Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that the technology sector has a culture which tends towards overt disinterest in older age groups. To overcome this barrier towards truly age-friendly technology, more must be done to encourage older people to take up work within the technology sector, and to equip them with the digital skills to do so. More must also be done to co-design technology in consultation with older people to ensure it meets their needs and interests, and is not developed solely through the lens of young people.


5.3          There are also possible barriers relating to particular sections of the older population. Even if technology is developed to help older people form social connections, there must be a concerted effort to ensure these reach the most disadvantaged and lonely older people. Research by Ofcom in 2019 found that almost half of those aged 75 or over do not use the internet, and that use varies considerably by socio-economic group[15]. Throughout society, about a quarter of those in semi-skilled and unskilled manual occupations do not use the internet[16], which would suggest that those older people who worked in lower skilled professions may not engage with technology as frequently. With evidence showing that those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to feel lonely, there may be a group of worse-off, more lonely older people who do not use technology often, and who require a concerted effort to reach when it comes to technology designed to strengthen social connections and tackle loneliness.


13. What would be the implications of a paradigm shift to people leading healthier lives for longer, and spending less time suffering ill health? For example: 


6.1          By enabling older people to live healthier, more active lives for longer, we will be in a better position to tackle ageism in society and paint a positive vision of the role of older people in our communities. As many older people and those working with them, have told us during the course of the APPG on Social Integration’s inquiry, older people are currently too often portrayed as inactive and frail, requiring the assistance and the support of others. Our idea of activities and services for older people should change from those which ‘do’ things to older people to those which include older people in mutual cross-generational interactions, in which young and old connect on an equal level. Changing our mindset about ageing and older people could transform the way that central and local government develop policy, and the way that the media talks about older people.


6.2          In a society in which older people lead healthier lives for longer, and in which we see older people as active contributors to our communities rather than passive beneficiaries of support, activities and services need to be developed which make this a reality. During its intergenerational connection inquiry, the APPG on Social Integration has come across a number of inspiring initiatives which strengthen bonds between different generations through shared interests. The Cares Family brings younger professionals and older neighbours together in London, Manchester and Liverpool for one-on-one meet-ups and group events[17], while GoodGym encourages younger people to ‘combine getting fit with doing good’ by running to the home of an older person to have a chat[18]. Such programmes are not based on the idea of frail older people who need support from active young people, but on mutual benefit and connection across the age spectrum. Enhancing intergenerational activities of this nature should also prompt reflection on ways that more older people could be encouraged to volunteer in their communities, for instance through a national volunteering service for older people, as proposed in the APPG on Social Integration’s ‘Healing the Generational Divide’ report[19].


6.3          There are potentially long-term economic savings to be made through older people enjoying higher levels of wellbeing and reduced loneliness. Less money will need to be spent on providing care and support for older people who are lonely, and instead older people will be more able to contribute to their local communities through both work and volunteering, helping services and community projects to thrive. Thinking about older people as active contributors to our communities, who can partake in mutually beneficial activities with other generations, could also help government to pool resources which have traditionally be separated between younger and older people, towards shared intergenerational programmes.


20 September 2019


[1] For more information see The Challenge’s 2017-18 Impact Report: The Challenge (2018), Impact Report 2017-18. Available at:

[2] Social Integration Commission (2014), Social Integration: A Wake-up Call. Available at:

[3] APPG on Social Integration (2019), Healing the Generational Divide. Available at:

[4] The Challenge (2018), All Together Now. Available at:

[5] APPG on Social Integration (2018), Submissions to the Call for Evidence: Lorraine George.

[6] APPG on Social Integration (2018), Submissions to the Call for Evidence: Apples and Honey Nightingale.

[7] APPG on Social Integration (2019), Healing the Generational Divide.

[8] APPG on Social Integration (2018), Submissions to the Call for Evidence: The Cares Family.

[9] APPG on Social Integration (2019), Healing the Generational Divide.

[10] Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (2018), A Connected Society: A Strategy for Tackling Loneliness. Available at:

[11] What Works Wellbeing (2018), What do we Know About Tackling Loneliness (So Far)? Available at:

[12] Vodafone UK (2019), Harnessing Technology to Tackle Loneliness. Available at:

[13] Statista (2019), Median Age of Employees Working at Selected Tech and Online Companies as of April 2016. Available at:

[14] BCS: The Chartered Institute for IT (2016) Diversity in IT: Shaping our Future Together. Available from

[15] Ofcom (2019) Adults: Media use and Attitudes Report. Available at:

[16] iBid

[17] APPG on Social Integration (2018), Submissions to the Call for Evidence: The Cares Family.

[18] APPG on Social Integration (2018), Submissions to the Call for Evidence: GoodGym.              

[19] APPG on Social Integration (2019), Healing the Generational Divide.