“I think there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in this community that are lonely but are not asking for help.” That is the stark message from the chief executive of Age UK Calderdale.
“It’s a much bigger problem than we realise,” says Lisa Butland. But she has a positive message for people who do feel lonely.
“Don’t sit there in silence. Reach out because there are people who will help.”
Age UK offer companionship centres, befriending services, information, advice and support for elderly people in Calderdale, most of whom Lisa says will be experiencing some form of loneliness.
“Everything we do is for people who are lonely or have an element of loneliness in their lives,” Lisa said.
“For a lot of people, visiting our Companion Centres is the only time they leave the house all week.
“We do a cleaning service, and sometimes a cleaner will come back and say ‘that house was spotless when I got there’. They’re accessing that service for someone to visit them and talk to them.
“There are so many people who live on their own and don’t see anybody. It’s shocking.
“I think people would help if they knew more about it or how they could help. But loneliness is hidden. People don’t want to admit to it because they’re worried about the consequences of losing their independence or being given services they don’t want.”
Kerry-Lee Horton, companionship lead for Age UK Calderdale and Kirklees, said: “We aim to improve the quality of people’s lives by giving them opportunities to have contact with others by involving them in social activities so they can make friendship links.
“Quite often, those links lead to friendship outside the day services where people meet up and make a companion.
“The most common cause of loneliness we encounter is due to the death of a partner, losing friends who pass away or losing contact because of mobility problems leaving them unable to get out and about.
“We can come into contact with people through the individuals themselves, their friends or families or their carers.”
Kerry-Lee says some of Age UK’s local centres are running at full capacity, and fears the problem of loneliness will get worse.
“I would say it’s getting worse. The financial aspect is an issue for some people, while there are restrictions on what local authorities can provide.
“We’re trying to change what we can offer to give more affordability, such as part-days rather than full days, and shorter assisted outings for maybe an hour or two.
“But the amount of referrals we are receiving has increased over the last six to 12 months.
“We have an ageing population and there are more people living at home for longer with more complex needs, and they aren’t always able to get out of the house, so there are more and more people stuck in their own house.
“Fifteen years ago everybody hopped on or off our mini-buses and we very rarely had someone using a wheelchair.
“Now we have a lot of people using wheelchairs or stand-aids. Fifteen years ago they would have been in a nursing home, but now they are still living at home, which is a good thing.
“But that does create isolation.”
There are 209,800 people in Calderdale, with just over 36,000 aged 65+ (17 per cent) and approximately 30 per cent of these live alone. Life expectancy is in line with the national average at just over 80 years of age.
Age UK’s recent report using data from the ONS and the latest Census suggests that poor health is the most significant factor for people aged 65 who said they often experienced loneliness. Other factors include being widowed or divorced, living alone and older age (80+).
Calderdale ranks 88th highest risk of loneliness out of 337 Local Authorities - in the top 25 per cent and has 12 neighbourhoods in the top 10 per cent with the highest risk of loneliness and Halifax has 2 neighbourhoods in the top 1 per cent.
Of the 12 neighbourhoods at the highest risk of loneliness, Halifax has 9 neighbourhoods (these are gathered in the area west of the town centre (around Park Ward and to the north around Ovenden/Mixenden) and the others are in Brighouse, Elland and Sowerby Bridge.
To speak to Age UK Calderdale, call 01422 252 040.