Caring for hens, refurbishing tools and befriending programmes are just some of the ways that councils and charities are working together to combat loneliness this Christmas.
Over a million elderly people suffer from loneliness, but this festive season and beyond, local authorities will be working closely with the voluntary sector to keep schemes running which help people to stay active and involved in their communities, says the Local Government Association. These schemes aim to prevent thousands of people from becoming isolated or lonely and reduce the devastating impacts that can be associated with this such as dementia and depression.
Councils and charities have been finding innovative ways to combat loneliness in old age through programmes which range from giving people new hobbies like caring for animals, making and refurbishing new things or visiting and befriending schemes which aim to provide company and help people to live safely in the community.
Some of the programmes include:
HenPower project – The HenPower project, in Tyne and Wear, has given dozens of elderly people the chance to meet people while looking after their hens. They have designed bespoke coops and chosen rare breeds to buy. The ‘hensioners’ visit schools and other care homes with their hens, leading to the lives of dozens of pensioners being transformed.
Men in Sheds Scheme – Age UK Exeter’s Men in Sheds scheme was set up to offer a facility for men aged over 50 to meet for a few hours a week in the familiar environment of a shed or workshop. The men come together to socialise over refurbishing and renovating tools and garden equipment to be donated to charities and organisations in the UK and Africa, or to be sold to raise money for charity. The scheme operates four days a week. People are referred to the scheme by Mental Health teams, Social Services, Age UK Exeter and the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.
The Derbyshire Trusted Befriending Network – The Derbyshire Trusted Befriending Network is being developed by South Derbyshire CVS (voluntary organisation) in partnership with Derbyshire County Council Adult Care. It aims to make sure that isolated and vulnerable adults in Derbyshire who could benefit from befriending support are able to do so.
Wavelength – Wavelength is a voluntary organisation which provides televisions and radios for isolated and lonely people; there is no cost to the recipient. In some exceptional cases, they can also help cover the cost of a TV licence or aerial for beneficiaries who don’t already have one. Wavelength takes care of all installation and delivery. Beneficiaries cover a wide spectrum, including disabled people, those living with illness or mental health problems, in insecure housing, or aged over 75.
Safe and Independent Living Project – The Safe and Independent Living Project (SAIL) in Southwark. SAIL is a partnership between Age UK Lewisham and Southwark and Southwark Council aims to ensure all older or vulnerable people living in the borough are connected to services that help them stay safe and independent.
Loneliness can be more harmful to health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to studies. This means that those at most risk of being lonely – those on a low income or living in more isolated or deprived areas – are having their health put at serious risk.
As our population ages loneliness is becoming a growing and serious issue. This Christmas, almost half of all people over the age of 75 will be living alone, with 200,000 older people feeling unable to leave their home throughout the year.
If loneliness is tackled through effective interventions early on it can prevent elderly people needing more serious care unnecessarily and reduce the need for more costly health and care services. However, continued funding pressures and growing demand, councils have been left with difficult decisions about what services they can afford to run and some services, such as transport services and day-centres which can prevent people from becoming isolated or lonely have been stripped-back.
The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils has called on the Government to properly fund social care to ensure that people get the dignified care they deserve in older age.
The Government has listened to our concerns about the urgent need to address our social care funding crisis by allowing councils with adult social care responsibilities to raise extra money through council tax to offset some of the pressures on social care.
The additional funding for social care in the Better Care Fund, rising to £1.5 billion by 2019/20, also announced in the Spending Review, is also good news. However, we are concerned there is no Better Care Fund money next year and the full benefit will not be seen until the end of the decade.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing spokesperson, said:
“Councils play a crucial role in supporting people who are isolated or lonely, often in partnership with voluntary organisations and through social care and support or other services which help to keep people active and involved in their communities. This Christmas, many councils and charities will be continuing to use innovative ways to help people stay in contact with others and prevent them from feeling alone during the festive season and in the months that follow.
“However, as council budgets continue to come under pressure, it is a sad reality that local authorities will have to continue making difficult decisions about the services they provide and this can often be at the expense of other valuable services. We cannot underestimate the importance of bus routes, leisure centres or day centres as community-binding services that can stop people from becoming isolated and which can help to keep people independent, healthy and well.”