Katie Milne, Policy, Public Affairs and Communications Assistant
Everyone feels lonely from time to time. However, there is a difference between feeling lonely and being isolated – cut off from friends, family and communities against your will.
Improved life expectancy is one of the greatest achievements of the last century. 17.7% of the UK’s population now consists of those aged 65 or over, and the proportion of those aged 90 or over has been steadily increasing since the early 1980s.
While living longer is a cause for celebration, an increase in the elderly population may also be a cause for concern. The rise in the number of older people having to provide unpaid care, those experiencing bereavement and long-term conditions has led to an increase in social isolation. Latest figures by AgeUK reveal that currently 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with friends or family for a month, and that 3.9 million older people agree that their television is their main source of company.
Isolation severely impacts on health. Not only does the emotional distress caused increase the risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, but also the likelihood of worse physical wellbeing. It is now considered that social isolation is as harmful to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. This is worrying not only for older people themselves, but also for the sustainability of the NHS as the demand for services increases.
However, isolation may be reduced by the remedy of Christian service – as highlighted by a recent paper titled ‘Doing Good: A Future for Christianity in the 21st Century’ by the think tank Theos. Practical love for our neighbours, through our love for God, possesses the ability to relieve isolation in a challenging political landscape by encouraging the flourishing of human relationships.
Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) member charities carry out effective support for older people through building relationships. Caritas Salford run the St Joseph’s Welfare and Befriending centre in North Manchester. A dedicated team provide help with shopping, appointments, utilities, contacting family members and befriending. Catholic Care in Leeds also offer emotional and practical support. Community outreach services and groups provide regular conversation and a listening ear, as well as support with fitness and personal care. Father Hudson’s Care run the Maryvale Community Project in Birmingham, which provides older people with the opportunity to take part in karaoke, quiz nights, crafts and day trips at lunch and social clubs.
The growing problem of isolation presents a significant challenge to mental and physical health across the county, and therefore to Government policy. However, Caritas agencies deliver vital relief grounded in Christian charity, and offer a promising future.
The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.