MSPs tackle loneliness epidemic among older people

Old people

Debate focuses on how loneliness is debilitating older people - and society 

21st March 2017 by Robert Armour 1 Comment

Age Scotland has welcomed a Scottish Parliament debate on loneliness taking place today (21 March) as the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness launches its spotlight on older people. 

The launch comes as new figures show the extent of the problem for older people. 

Over half (56%) of Gransnet users – the over 50s networking site - who describe themselves as lonely have never talked about their loneliness to anyone.

The vast majority of that number say their close friends and family would be quite surprised or even astonished to hear they feel lonely, according to a new survey carried out by the social networking site.

The survey also reveals that 93% of Gransnet users admit it’s possible to feel lonely even when you have a partner or family, with 82% agreeing that talking about feelings of loneliness is much easier when they are online and anonymous.

Rhoda Grant MSP leads the debate in the Scottish Parliament which will discuss the physical and psychological impacts of loneliness.  

Age Scotland figures published as part of the charity’s “No One Should Have No One” campaign showed that: 100,000 older people feel lonely most or all of the time and over 200,000 go half a week or more with no visitors or phone calls from anyone.

Keith Robson, chief executive of Age Scotland said: “Age Scotland has made tackling loneliness one of our strategic priorities. Our research has shown that a staggering number of older people in our country feel isolated and lonely. 

"This is an issue we have to tackle as a society.  Following a ground-breaking parliamentary inquiry in 2015, we welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to create a national strategy to tackle social isolation, which could be the first worldwide.

“We also welcome the work of the Jo Cox Commission which is asking people to do what they can to tackle loneliness, with something as simple as starting a conversation.  Even small gestures like this can help an older person who is feeling lonely.”

The cross-party Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, launched earlier this year in the UK Parliament, is supported by 13 organisations and aims to not just raise awareness of the problem but to act as a ‘call to action’. 

As a member of the Age Network – together with sister charities Age UK, Age Cymru and Age NI – Age Scotland is part of the Commission. 

Under the slogan ‘Start a Conversation’, the Commission wants to mobilise the public to help themselves and others around them – educating people on how they can become part of the solution – whether through talking to a neighbour, visiting an old friend, or just making time for people they meet. 

Jo Cox set up the Commission before her murder in June 2016.  In her memory, the avowedly cross-party Commission is being taken forward by MPs Rachel Reeves (Labour) and Seema Kennedy (Conservative), supported by Jo’s family. 

Co-chairs of the commission, Rachel Reeves and Seema Kennedy, said: “Loneliness is a silent epidemic across the UK.  We all need to act and encourage older people to freely talk about their loneliness.

“Everyone can play a part to ending loneliness among older people in their communities by simply starting a conversation with those around you. 

"Building awareness of loneliness by being the ‘eyes on the ground’ to spot it amongst older customers, patients, friends, relatives and neighbours, and refer onto people who can help are all interventions that could make a real impact to a lonely older person’s life. 

"How we care and act for those around us could mean the difference between an older person just coping, to them loving and enjoying later life.”

22nd March 2017 by Garry McGregor

It is a pity that Third Force News did not pick up the fact that the members debate was focused on the British Red Cross/Co-op report "Trapped in a Bubble" or cohesively bring together the work being done by Voluntary Health Scotland (based in your building, I believe) and Befriending Networks around loneliness to represent a more complete Scottish third sector take on the issue. While it is true the Jo Cox Commission switches its focus to older people and Age UK is the lead partner on this, the MSP's debate went out of its way to acknowledge that other groups are affected by the loneliness in addition to older people, so your headline is, in fact, misleading.