A group of people wait outside a Social Security office in Malaga. / SUR

‘I’m 76 years old, and they make me feel like an idiot’

Many elderly people are unable to carry out basic tasks such as making medical appointments, carrying out banking transactions and dealing with administrative matters online

Antonio Javier López

Antonio, who has raised a family of four children “and now I have five grandchildren as well”, got up at the crack of dawn for decades to go to work and has reached retirement age “in quite good shape”; in fact, he goes out cycling around different places in Malaga province with a group of friends on most Sunday mornings.

“I’m the oldest, but I still leave some of the younger ones behind when we’re going up a hill,” he says, proudly. However, that sense of pride becomes one of embarrassment when it comes to technology, to such an extent that he asked us not to use his real name when he shared his experience with us for this report.

“It just isn’t right. I’m 76 years old, I’m fit, I’m literate, but they make me feel like an idiot,” he says.

Antonio, who lives in Malaga city, sensed what was coming while he was still working. “I worked for an insurance company. I have always liked dealing with people, I had a good portfolio and plenty of contacts, but I found the technology aspect very difficult. They gave me training and I am grateful for that, but when they offered me the chance to retire, I felt it was well-timed,” he explains, with a hint of bitterness.

He manages WhatsApp and Facebook well from his mobile phone and sometimes sends an email, but the so-called digital gap becomes an abyss when it comes to making an appointment at the health centre, carrying out a bank transaction or dealing with administrative matters with the different authorities.

“They have no right to treat us like this,” complains Rocío, as she waits outside a Social Security office in the city. “I ring and ring and keep ringing and they never answer. I asked my daughter to make an appointment for me over the internet, but there was no way of doing it. Ihave just retired, I’m 66, and I don’t know what I have to do to get them to see me,” she says. In the end, she decided to go to the office with her daughter. A security rope blocks off the entrance. They ring the doorbell and a security guard comes out. They tell him what they want. He goes back inside and returns with a form for them to fill out, there in the street. Rocío’s daughter does that, with more resignation than confidence. “They say they’ll ring us either today or tomorrow,” she tells her mother, but the expressions on their faces show that they think it very unlikely that they will.

The ‘I might be old but I’m not an idiot’ campaign, started by 78-year-old Carlos San Juan in Valencia, has once again highlighted the problems that elderly people have in accessing a society which has become increasingly digitalised, and especially so as a result of the pandemic. San Juan’s petition, which has more than 630,000 signatures has reached the deputy prime minister, Nadia Calviño, and she has given the banks two weeks to change the way they deal with clients face-to-face.

The technological abyss

It is hardly surprising that only 16.1 per cent of over-75s in Andalucía use internet banking, as shown in a report by the National Institute of Statistics about the use of technology in different age groups. This figure is actually above the national level (13 per cent), but it drops in the section regarding making a GP appointment online: only 8.7 per cent of people aged over 75 in Andalucía make their appointments this way and Aurora Martín is not among them.

“Because I always get up early anyway, I come here to make an appointment,” explains this 77-year-old, who we find queueing outside the health centre in El Palo. “But it’s more complicated with the banks.”

A sign outside a bank branch in the east of the city has a sign saying the counter closes at 11am. Josefa Ferrer has tried to use the automatic cash machine outside, but can’t understand it so she is waiting to go in. Another sign on the door says clients have to make an appointment in advance via the banking app or by telephone.

“The staff here are very nice, I’m sure they will help me,” says Josefa, 66. “I always come early, when there aren’t many people about, but I wish their hours were more flexible. My children have taught me how to do basic things with my mobile, but I’ve received a letter and I don’t really understand what it’s telling me, so I want them to explain it to me in person,” she says. Her phone starts ringing then, and it is a WhatsApp call from one of her two sons who live in London.

Pilar López Fernández, 56, who lives in Jimera de Líbar, can also manage WhatsApp calls, Bizum and a few other things on her mobile. She is a student on one of the digital literacy courses set up by the Diputación de Malaga (the provincial authority).

“I’m very grateful that these types of course exist and if there are any more I’ll do them as well. I don’t understand these things and I rely on other people a lot, but we older people need to learn as well,” says this shop owner. “I have come a bit late to all this technology and need to get more up to date. You often feel useless, especially with the pandemic, but there is still time to learn. If you try, you find you can do it,” she says, confidently.

Remedios Cuevas, who we see waiting outside a Social Security office, isn’t so enthusiastic. “I came the other day and filled out a form. They said they would ring me, but they haven’t. I have some paperwork about my husband and I don’t know what it means, so I’d like someone to explain it to me,” she says. She says the same to the security guard who comes out to see what she wants.

“I’ll go and ask again, and then I’ll come back and tell you what they say,” she reassures Remedios, who then sits down on a bench beside a tree, a few metres from the entrance, to wait.