With approximately one million pensioners isolated from human company, a new government minister might help provide support for later life services.
Labour MP Frank Field has revealed as many as one million older people are starving in their homes because of loneliness and isolation.
His recent report to Parliament cites a woman in her 80s whose husband went into a care home with dementia. The district nurse who’d been visiting her husband to help with food stopped coming and, with no one else visiting, the woman did not eat a proper meal for nine weeks. She went unnoticed until a neighbour came two months later.
A man in his 90s was banned from his local supermarket because he fell twice and was an insurance risk, so he was unable to buy food.
Mr Field said that some malnourished older people entered hospital weighing 5.7 stone, with an infection, or following a fall which kept them there for several days, if not weeks.
The report follows an announcement the government has appointed Conservative MP Tracey Crouch as ‘Minister for loneliness’ to tackle this epidemic. This position had been recommended by the Jo Cox campaign, in honour of the MP who was killed in 2016.
Approximately 9 million people in the UK, mainly elderly and disabled adults, live very solitary, lonely lives.
Ten years ago, Meals on Wheels helped around 155,000 people. For many, this was their only point of contact with another human being. The services were mainly run by volunteers, who were also befrienders keeping an informal eye on frail, older people.
Today they are far fewer, as funding has been reduced, and now only 29,000 people receive Meals on Wheels.
Another resource that has largely disappeared are the day centres, where people used to meet and have a cup of tea and chat. These had to be closed because local authorities’ budgets were slashed, amid warnings that adult social services are on the point of collapse.
All over the country, many churches are working hard to reach the lonely in their communities. They are organising a wide range of activities, opening their doors for lunch clubs and activities of all types. They are usually funded by the churches themselves and run by volunteers who are often retired and older themselves.
This March, at a Pilgrims’ Friend Society conference at Romford Baptist Church, one of the speakers will describe an effective community outreach programme run by churches working together in the north of England.
It is attracting more volunteers and the support of social services and the local police, who refer people for befriending. It has also attracted some charitable funding. Perhaps the new minister for loneliness would be wise to consider allocating funds to churches already doing such valuable work?
The author is media and communications manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society, a 210-year-old Christian charity supporting older people. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist and author of several books on issues of old age, including dementia.