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Loneliness hurts

February 3, 2017 12:20 PM

A personal view by Rob Bird

A few days ago I was walking round a small private estate in Central Maidstone. The bungalows were mostly well loved and well maintained but some - a few more than last year - reeked of neglect. They showed all the signs of being occupied by an elderly person, on his or her own, totally isolated from the community.

"The loneliness can be almost unbearable", said one 80 year-old gentleman. Sad old man"You are the first real person I've spoken to for days. People are too busy to bother with us. All we've got is the television."

Warning signs discourage visitors and all too often people cannot get to answer the doorbell, or they don't have the confidence to do so - so they're left alone and neglected.

Loneliness is not just a blight on the lives of millions of people, particularly the elderly, it is a silent epidemic with serious health risks such as depression, mental health issues and an increasing likelihood of strokes and other serious illness.

The country's social care system is a crisis point. There are many excellent charities doing their best to assist elderly and disabled people, but they cannot do everything. Far too many people are not getting the support they need and those slipping through the net are ignored.

Pensive Old WomanThe new Commission on Loneliness dedicated to the memory of the murdered MP, Jo Cox, is a welcome initiative. It brings together some of the key organisations and leading charities which are trying to tackle loneliness on a daily basis. The Commission is not going to solve the problem, but hopefully as a nation we will have a better understanding of the scale of the challenge and what needs to be done to help those suffering from loneliness.

Here in Kent, the County Council is encouraging people to live independently in their own homes. It may help reduce the burgeoning social care costs but this approach is only tenable if people get the care services they need and are not left socially isolated. Kent County Council is relying on support from the voluntary sector. But charities can only do so much; they are increasingly struggling for funding and volunteers.

The organisation and funding of our care services need a radical overhaul at national level. Until this happens, countless people will continue to suffer from social isolation and the tragic consequences of loneliness will ultimately hurt us all.