The importance of tackling loneliness and supporting our elderly

AGE UK’s ‘index of wellbeing’ was released this week showing that social life as well as good mental and physical health are the key factors in happiness.

Michelle Donelan’s column in the Gazette & Herald 09 Feb 2017

The research shows that none of the leading factors in determining happiness were financial but more around social inclusion and participation in the local community.

One of the main causes of overall unhappiness was loneliness. Heartbreakingly, around two-fifths of all older people – almost four million men and women – cite the television as their main form of company.

In Parliament this week I attended the launch of a campaign to tackle the crushing loneliness felt by so many people. The ‘Loneliness Commission’ was first conceived by murdered Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox.

In the next year, the commission will work to highlight the devastating impact loneliness can have on people of all ages and from all walks of life and will also aim to help people realise how they can be part of the solution to loneliness – whether that means talking to a neighbour, visiting an old friend or just making time for a cup of tea with someone living on their own.

There are already some great examples of Wiltshire initiatives to combat social isolation. Age UK’s befriending service offers support and friendship to make a difference to the lives of isolated older people in their own homes. They also offer a Wiltshire-wide telephone friendship, similar to Esther Rantzen’s SilverLine, and a home visiting service. They can be contacted on (01380) 735526.

I am also aiming to help by organising a series of ‘pensioner pop-ins’ for residents. The first one is next week and I have extended an invitation to more than 700 Chippenham residents. If the event goes well I will look to hold similar events in Melksham, Corsham, Bradford on Avon and our more rural villages. For more information about the pensioner pop-ins call my office on (01249) 704465.

Although financial factors were not at the top of the list of issues contributing to overall happiness, I believe that the fundamental role of the Government is to look after the vulnerable and the older generations, who have paid into the system all of their lives.

For previous generations there was no auto-enrolment for pensions and there was an unwritten agreement that the state would look after people in older age. It is therefore right to safeguard their incomes and universal pensioner benefits.

Also published online on the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald website HERE.