Reading and hearing reports in the media each day, it is impossible to deny that there is increased awareness of the issue of loneliness and isolation in older people in the UK. Since I founded the charity 49 years ago, Contact the Elderly has been actively involved in combating loneliness, providing over a million face-to-face friendship links via our monthly tea parties
The sad reality is that digital isolation affects many more than 7 million adults. Two years ago, if you asked my mum (who is in her 70s) if she was online, she would have answered yes - because she had a computer and she'd used the internet. But I can assure you she wasn't because, at that time, she needed me to sit beside her just to make a Skype call.
Just as it is cruel to deprive the elderly of food or medication, it is cruel to accept the current state of social isolation. We could ask why these lonely people's families are not more involved or go down the Chinese government route of 'forcing' people to visit their elderly parents but the reality is that people are naturally occupied with making a living and raising their own young.
The population of the UK is ageing. By 2025, half the population will be over 50. Our media and politicians are warning us of the consequences of this for our public services and national debt. What very few people are talking about is one of the ways we can tackle this looming crisis: our personal relationships.
Loneliness saps the will to live and can be a major cause of depression, as one 80-year-old lady told me "I wake each morning, get dressed, and sit on my bed waiting for death. I have nothing else to look forward to." ChildLine has proved, as Samaritans proved before it, that an anonymous helpline can break through the barriers of shame or fear. So I suggested that The Silver Line might do the same for the older generation, and enable callers to disclose not just their loneliness, but incidents of neglect and abuse they dared not admit to anyone else. And so it has proved.