THE BLOG

Face-to-Face Contact - The Most Basic Human Right?

02/10/2014 15:17 BST | Updated 01/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Age UK are compiling a report to show how human rights principles, such as dignity, fairness, equality and respect, can make a big difference to older people's lives.

The report aims to highlight real stories of where these guiding principles have been used to counter ageist stereotypes, promote change in the way public services are delivered and ensure older people's views are heard.

I welcome this initiative to raise awareness of the importance of human rights for older people. As it is being compiled this month, celebrations are taking place all over the country to honour the important role of the older generation in our society, including Older People's Day on 1st and and Silver Sunday on 5th October.

October is also a time of year when the evenings begin to draw in and the days become shorter and darker. It is a time of year when thousands of of our oldest, and most vulnerable struggle with increasing isolation.

Having worked on the front-line in tackling loneliness in older people for almost 50 years, it seems to me that ensuring our older people feel part of a community, respected, and noticed is the fundamental human right we should really be addressing. The right to face-to-face human interaction should surely be a given. But, for a million older people across the country this is simply not the case as they live alone, neglected and off the radar - a situation described by Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt as "a national disgrace" in October 2013.

A major problem for all organisations working in this field, like our team at Contact the Elderly and staff at Age UK, is how to reach out to the most isolated and avoid the often tragic consequences of loneliness, as in the case of Anne Leitrim who was recently found dead in her Bournemouth home 6 years after she died.

Unfortunately, helplines, volunteers, and professionals can normally only respond to those who can shout for help and it is hard to reach out to those off the radar, because there is a 'shouting line':

  • Above the shouting line are the elderly who live alone and are able to phone, shout for their needs and take advantage of everything going, such as 'Meals-on-wheels', the Day Centre, Social Care and other services.
  • Below the shouting line are the million neglected elderly, who have neither the confidence nor ability to shout about their needs, nor any friends or family to shout for them.

Contact the Elderly is reaching as many of these people as possible, but we need much more support from to reach further below this shouting line.

We work with thousands of volunteers who have a vital role to play alongside our team. The impact of our regular face-to-face friendship links are clear and are also saving taxpayer's money by improving older people's happiness and health; and reducing calls on the GP and NHS.

The issue of loneliness amongst older people is escalating out of control. Now is the time for government to step up and support our work so we can benefit many more lonely and isolated people

In the run-up to the General Election, before the Pensioners vote is forgotten for another 5 years, I hope Age UK, Silver Line and others will join us in lobbying MPs of all parties to help us all to reach out to many more of the neglected one million who deserve the most fundamental human right: to be remembered with a caring and regular act of friendship.

If not now, when?

Trevor Lyttleton MBE Founder and Chairman of Contact the Elderly