New survey reveals worrying findings as Age Scotland joins charities shining spotlight on older generation.
Age Scotland welcomes a Scottish Parliament debate on the issue of loneliness taking place today (Tuesday 21 March) as the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness launches its spotlight on older people. The launch of the spotlight comes as new figures show the extent of the problem for older people. Over half (56%) of Gransnet users who describe themselves as lonely have never talked about their loneliness to anyone, with the vast majority of that number[i] saying their close friends and family would be quite surprised or even astonished to hear they feel lonely, according to a new survey[ii] carried out by the over-50s social networking site.[iii]
Published today to mark the launch of the spotlight on older people, 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.[iv]
Today Rhoda Grant MSP will lead a 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.
The cross-party Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, launched earlier this year in the UK Parliament, is supported by thirteen organisations[v] 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.
While loneliness can strike at any age, older people are at higher risk of being lonely as they are more likely to experience deteriorating health and the death of a loved one. Disability, poor health, poverty and limited access to transport all contribute to older people feeling cut off from their family, friends and local communities, meaning many older people have little or no social interaction. The closures of bank branches, post offices, small shops and libraries, particularly in rural areas, can be devastating for many older people who rely on them for social contact, exacerbating their feelings of being forgotten and lonely.
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.
Passionate about tackling loneliness, 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.
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.
“Our national Freephone telephone helpline – 0800 12 44 222 – available for older people, their families and carers, offers friendship and contact as well as information and advice. We’d like to encourage people to get in touch, and have a chat with our team of friendly advisers.”
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.”
People can help by making time for older relatives and checking in on older friends and neighbours who they know. In addition, the organisations are asking their supporters and followers to post #happytochat on their Twitter and Facebook status to create online chatter around loneliness and encourage people across all generations to be aware of the loneliness that can often be found – but only behind closed doors.
Anyone who wants to find out more about the Commission or how they can get involved in tackling loneliness in their community can visit www.jocoxloneliness.org for further information.
[i] Of the 73% (741 people) of those who would describe themselves as lonely – 54% said friends and family would be ‘quite surprised’ and 17% said they would be ‘astonished’. Gransnet Loneliness survey, 31 Jan–11 Feb 2017.
[ii] The survey ran on the Gransnet website between 31 January and 11 February 2017. 1,014 people took part.
[iii] Gransnet.com is a social networking site for the over 50s and a recognised champion for digital inclusion.
[iv] Gransnet Loneliness survey, 31 Jan–11 Feb 2017.
[v] Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society, British Red Cross, Campaign to End Loneliness, Eden Project, Gransnet, Independent Age, The Silver Line and The Royal Voluntary Service.