The sentimental John Lewis TV advert this Christmas has prompted discussion on the plight of many older people and the problem of loneliness in our modern society.
The traditional societal structures which meant big family groups living near and taking care of each other have gradually been eroded by young families moving away from their home towns for employment or study, less deference to elders and institutions like the Church, more women working, growing divorce rates, increasing life expectancy and more independent living.
Each means that many more men (and more often women) are living on their own for very much longer, carrying the burdens of infirmity and long term poor health into their eighties and nineties and the silent encumbrance of loneliness and misery.
This doesn’t outweigh the good news that so many more people are living longer in good mental and physical health and in relative prosperity and it’s also a wonderful and relatively recent social phenomenon but not everyone has the good fortune to have a wide circle of friends and family to spend time with.
Over 1 million older people (10% of those aged 65+ in the UK) say they are always or often lonely, nearly a quarter of the ‘oldest old’ (85+) experience loneliness some or most of the time, nearly half (49%) of people over 65 live alone. A significant minority (17%) of older people have less than weekly contact with family, friends and neighbours
In Peterborough, many folk are doing their best to meet this challenge: A year ago I attended a meeting in Bretton of the fledgling Contact the Elderly tea party, encouraging those who would otherwise be alone, to socialise and make friends in a cosy household setting.
Likewise, Kingsgate Community Church in Parnwell has a Grand Adults over-55 group providing lunches, guest speakers and outings for senior citizens who might value the company and want to make friends with similar outlooks. Other voluntary bodies like Cross Keys Homes and Longthorpe Friendship Club are also doing great work.
The well-known charity Age UK has also launched its “No one should have no one at Christmas” campaign. They rightly say that loneliness not only makes life miserable, it can have a serious impact on health. Unless we act this means more pressure on our already stretched NHS and social care services.
It is too easy to ignore the less obvious problems and ignore things that are difficult to cost. We have discussed loneliness in Parliament and like mental health, it is no longer a taboo subject but a matter for legitimate and timely debate and action.
I will be writing the City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board in the New Year asking them to prioritise loneliness in their plans.
In the meantime, if you know someone who might be lonely, knock on their door, make them a cup of tea or take them shopping. And have a good chat with them!
If you know of any initiatives you’d like me to support, please do contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org