“Here at WaveLength, we’re absolutely dedicated to banishing loneliness from the lives of older people and others at risk from isolation. We know what an enormous impact human contact can have on people’s lives, and know that our TVs and radios, which provide constant companionship, are best supplemented with regular visits or other social contacts.
“But I wasn’t happy with Jeremy Hunt’s comments on the “national shame” of isolated older people.
“In a speech at the National Children and Adults Services conference, Mr Hunt, our Health Secretary, said it was “badly wrong” that five million UK people say television is their main form of company.
“I’d never argue against providing more social contact for older people. But Mr Hunt’s recommended strategy for combatting loneliness through guilting families into providing more and more unpaid care for older, disabled or ill family members is an unrealistic and lazy approach.
“Many people have pointed out that a strategy of at-home care provided by the family is only realistic in societies where at least one person in the family – usually a wife, daughter or mother – is available twenty-four hours per day for care. Economic reality in the UK means that these unpaid carers are usually juggling help for relatives with at least one job outside the home. It is unfair to shift more of the burden of elder care onto people who are already overworked.
“Assuming that care is something provided by family also means that those who do not have strong family structures, including people who are childless, will be left behind. Many of the people WaveLength helps, for instance, have not formed strong family and community bonds throughout their lives, and some find this very difficult because of their conditions or circumstances. This does not make them less deserving of consistent care.
“At the same time as Jeremy Hunt’s speech, we have been told that his department is making a U-turn on councils’ responsibility to provide real care and contact for isolated people. No regulations will now be put in place to stop councils from commissioning care in 15 minute shifts, which we know mean that professional carers do not have the time to provide social contact, a chat and a cup of tea with the essential tasks they have to perform such as helping people to the lavatory or warming up a meal.
“Isolation and loneliness among housebound people is a huge national problem. But making hardworking family members feel guilty, without addressing the failings in the government’s care provision, is a lazy and unhelpful way to talk about it.”