The grim reality of life for thousands of pensioners in Yorkshire who live in isolation or in fear of abuse is laid bare after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt branded the treatment of older people in this country a “national shame”.
Last year councils in Yorkshire received more than 13,000 expressions of concern about potential abuse against people over 65.
Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show the alerts led to more than 5,000 investigations by Yorkshire authorities.
The Campaign to End Loneliness estimates that close to 100,000 pensioners, or one in ten, in the region go several days or even weeks without seeing other people.
Speaking in Harrogate on Friday, the Health Secretary described lonely pensioners as a “forgotten million who live amongst us – ignored to our national shame”.
And he said there was “something badly wrong in society” when across the country 112,000 cases of abuse against adults, the majority over 65, are referred to councils every year.
Shelagh Marshall, chairman of Future Years, the Yorkshire and Humber regional forum on ageing, welcomed Mr Hunt’s decision to draw attention to the issue of loneliness.
“It is a serious issue and the effects of isolation on older people really does affect people’s health. The effect can be similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and there is evidence it could contribute to Alzheimer’s.
“A lot of people are very happy on their own but there are also people who have long term illnesses, who can’t get out easily, who are recently bereaved and have lost their confidence. The hardest challenge is identifying people at risk.”
Mrs Marshall said there was a strong case for local authorities to use the funding they receive to promote better public health to support measures that combat loneliness, such as community transport, which would reduce the impact on the health service.
Mr Hunt’s speech is the latest signal that issues affecting older people are rising up the political agenda as pensioners make up an increasingly large proportion of the population.
In Yorkshire, the number of people over 65 is due to increase by almost half in the next 20 years to close to 1.3 million with the number over 85 rising 90 per cent to 220,000.
Selby is forecast to see one of the biggest rises in its elderly population in the next 20 years with a growth of 80 per cent in the number of pensioners.
Meeting the costs of adult social care is one of the biggest challenges facing councils across the region as they look to cut millions from their budgets.
Caroline Abrahams, from the Age UK charity, said: “A seismic shift is needed in attitudes towards older people and ageing in this country. As we get older, we are more likely to suffer illness and disability which can prevent us from getting out and about, and people’s social networks often shrink due to life-changing events such as retirement and bereavement which can increase the risk of becoming lonely.
“At Age UK we are extremely concerned that cuts to local authority budgets are exacerbating the problem of loneliness because they are causing the closure of many support services for older people like lunch clubs, which can be a lifeline for those on their own.”