28/07/2014 06:45 BST | Updated 24/09/2014 06:59 BST

A Pole Position Not to be Proud Of

When is the last time you stopped for a chat with your neighbour? In fact, isn't it a bit embarrassing to do that, because then you have to ask after their children - and you can never remember if they have two or three, and whether the eldest is the one called Robert?

The fact is, Britain has become a steadily less neighbourly place to live. Last month, the Office for National Statistics declared it official: Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe. It found us less likely to know our neighbours than residents anywhere else in the EU, with a significant proportion of people having no one to rely on in a crisis.

These figures came as no surprise to us at Stannah. Our latest Silver Census cast some disturbing light on the extent to which Britain's elderly people feel alone. And with the ONS report confirming that loneliness is twice as bad for older people's health as obesity, and almost as great a cause of death as poverty, the facts speak for themselves. Something must be done.

There are already fantastic organisations seeking to redress the balance and provide companionship or a listening ear to Britain's ten million over 65s. We met recently with The Silver Line, a superb charity set up by Esther Rantzen in 2012 to provide information, friendship and advice to Britain's older people. There is clearly a need: they expect to have received a million calls by the end of next year.

We wanted our research to go further than just pinpointing a state of alone-ness. We wanted to understand why this might be happening - if it is a result of dispersing families or a time-poor society. And we wanted to understand if it is truly, as the ONS suggests, a plague on all of Britain - or if, in fact, some regions suffer worse than others.

We could have anticipated that cities would be the loneliest places to live. Ironic though it may sound, when people are packed together into blocks of flats, enduring a constant hubbub of noise and traffic, cities are notoriously unfriendly. So discovering that London's pensioners experience the greatest feeling of loneliness - at 75% of all we spoke to - is probably to be expected.

What we did not anticipate was the discovery that exactly the same percentage of these people still live within an hour of a relative. In fact, 700,000 British pensioners say they see relatives once a year or less. It seems that migrating families and the break-down of traditional community are not to be blamed; we just aren't calling on our grandparents frequently enough.

Equally surprising was the result that the more affluent in society spend significantly less time with their elderly relatives than those classed as C2DE.

But perhaps the most heart-wrenching discovery of Stannah's latest Silver Census was the admittance by the older people we spoke to that they will take a bus trip or strike up a conversation with random people in a public place, just for company.

Surely we as a society can offer better than that?