Archive for marzo 2021

After WWII, the ideas of Otto Von Bismarck and William Beveridge came to the fore. In almost every country, citizens demanded that the State should take an active role in helping people in distress: labourers without work, sick people, retirees, etc.

That thinking dominated the world till the Reagan-Thatcher liberal revolution. Helped by an ageing population in almost every country, the current thinking of the last decades of the previous century and first two decades of the twenty first  have centred around the  possible unsustainability of the social umbrella designed after WWII.

Then came SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 pandemic. It changed everything. If the post-WWII design was meant to care for people in distress, citizens are demanding that the new social-welfare policies now include the whole population. From worrying that the social-welfare system was about to collapse, to demanding a bigger role for it, only a pandemic has sufficed. As an example, according to a recent editorial by The Economist (March 6th, 2021), today two-thirds of Europeans are asking for a universal basic income. How we are going to finance those new demands is not clear, but the old rule of lower taxes and no interference by the State in our personal socio-health has been broken into pieces.

We are demanding a social system in which help moves quickly and seamlessly to the entire population, and not only during crises, but always. Governments will need to find ways in which to finance that demand, and not only through borrowing, as is the case today, but permanently. The chunk of social services in the overall government budget will increase and, accordingly, the chunk of taxation in respect to GDP will increase. There will be a movement away from the Anglo-Saxon model towards a more comprehensive model, something more similar to what the Scandinavian countries have in place.

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As the demographic pyramid evolves towards a demographic cylinder, we look to ICT as the solution. Even with the push that COVID-19 has meant for the use of ICT, I still doubt that ICT alone is the solution.

If we take ordering goods or services over internet for private use[i] as a proxy of the confidence of users in ICT, we can appreciate that even if between 2015 and 2020 there was an increase of ten points, from 62% to 72%, of internet users in EU27, there are still countries like Italy or Romania and Bulgaria with less than 50% of the population using internet for shopping.

Internet access follows a clear north-south divide[ii]: the population in northern countries who have never used internet is below 10%, while in southern countries, like Portugal or Romania, that percentage is above 20%, or even 30% in countries like Italy or Bulgaria.

Focusing on our target population: old people and informal carers, made up of mostly old carers and immigrants, only 32% of individuals over 64 have shopped online[iii]. Unfortunately, the same divide north-south happens with old people: while in places like Portugal, Greece and Romania less that 10% of old people have shopped online in the past 12 months, in countries like Belgium, Germany or Norway the percentage is above 40 or even 50%.

Going back to the question, is ICT the solution for caring for old people? The answer is a definitive no. Even in countries with a high percentage of old people with ICT literacy, we must assume that the normal evolution of ageing will make most of those people reliant on informal carers who not necessarily have the same ICT skills.

ICT is here to stay and with time will take a bigger and bigger role in the care sector but, as of today and in the near future, we will have to rely on informal carers. People mostly coming from eastern and southern countries in Europe with a lot of heart and passion for their job but little or no ICT skills. The challenge is to develop ICT solutions for these people. These solutions should be similar to WhatsApp, which is so successful because it is easy to use, and the rewards – communication with family and friends – are instant.

[i] Source Eurostat (online data code isoc_ec_ibuy)

[ii] Source Eurostat (online data code isoc_r_cux_i)

[iii] Source Eurostat (online data code isoc _ec_ib20)

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