Jeremy Hunt backs Darlington scheme to prevent isolation in the elderly (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
Send us your pictures, video, news and views by texting DST to 80360 or email us
Jeremy Hunt backs Darlington scheme to prevent isolation in the elderly
DARLINGTON could become the national template for helping lonely and vulnerable pensioners, after the Health Secretary joined the debate over society's treatment of the elderly.
Jeremy Hunt told a conference in Harrogate that it was a "national shame" that 800,000 elderly people were classed as chronically lonely - with no friends and only a pet or a television for company.
And he hailed a Darlington scheme that aims to support isolated pensioners by hooking them up with volunteers willing to be their friend.
Mr Hunt said: "Forty-six percent of people aged 80 or over report feeling lonely some of the time or often. Some five million people say television is their main form of company - that’s 10 per cent of the population."
Researchers found that some pensioners had been all but abandoned by their families but didn't make a fuss for fear of being a nuisance. Others felt isolated because their friends had died.
Speaking after the conference, Mr Hunt hailed community projects such as the pioneering Good Friends scheme run by Age UK in Darlington.
The scheme aims to recruit a small army of volunteers to check on local elderly residents living alone, help with day-to-day tasks and be there for a chat.
More than 100 volunteers have already signed up in just two weeks. Officials hope to recruit 1,000 helpers and, if the scheme is a long-term success, it could become a national template.
Mr Hunt highlighted the “problem of loneliness that in our busy lives we have utterly failed to confront as a society" and called for initiatives like Good Friends to roll out across the country.
He said: “If we are to tackle the challenge of an ageing society, we must restore and reinvigorate the social contract between generations, to promote best practice and make this country the best place in the world to grow old in.
“Schemes (like Good Friends) that support elderly and vulnerable members of the local community can help with this.”
He added that people should examine how they treat their own parents and grandparents.
James Dobson, of Age UK Darlington, said the level of interest from volunteers has been hugely encouraging.
He said: “We have registered 100 Good Friends volunteers through the promotional work we have done to get the message out, so it has been a good response.
“We are getting a vast range of volunteers, from young people looking to get a bit of voluntary experience, to older people keen to help the community.”
Mr Dobson said the focus was now on securing referrals for the elderly people that will use the service, as well as boosting volunteer numbers.
He is confident that the target of signing up 1,000 volunteers will be met.
Prime Minister David Cameron supported Mr Hunt’s stance on combating loneliness.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: ''The Prime Minister is very clear about the importance of family life and people of all generations in society.
“He agrees with the Health Secretary that we need to look at the issue of loneliness and look at what we can do, whether it's for relatives or neighbours, to make sure we can play our part in society in reaching out to those who may feel loneliness.”
But Labour health spokeswoman Liz Kendall said it was Mr Hunt’s attempt to shift the blame for dealing with loneliness among the elderly on to families is the real national shame.
She said: ''He seems completely unaware that there are over six million unpaid family carers in Britain today, one in five of whom provide more than 50 hours care a week for their loved ones.
''Families, friends and neighbours need a decent care system to back up their efforts to look after elderly people, but the reality is our care system is in crisis and has been pushed to the brink of collapse.
''Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron need to take responsibility for their Government's actions rather than trying to turn the clock back and say it's down to families alone.''
Anyone interested in becoming a Good Friend can call 01325-362832 or visit goodfriends.org.uk.
For more information follow @JoinGoodFriends on Twitter or visit facebook.com/goodfriendsdarlington.
Comments are closed on this article.