CABINET CALL: A weekly column by members of South Holland District Council’s cabinet... this week with Coun Christine Lawton.
It is important not to confuse solitude with isolation. We all, in our busy lives, can long for a period of peace and quiet, and retirement can be a fulfilling experience, but for many isolation is a curse suffered in silence.
And when linked to ill health or bereavement it can be devastating.
According to the Office of National Statistics, half of over 75s live alone, two fifths say that TV is their main company and we have the highest rate of loneliness in the EU.
The impact on public health is substantial (it is believed that one in ten GP appointments is attributable to this aspect of life).
Evidence suggests that the risk is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and can increase the risk of premature death by up to 30 per cent.
Guidance for local authorities calls for a concerted effort from multi-agencies to raise awareness, to end the stigma, and to find ways of integrating services.
It is easy to suggest volunteering, joining a club or society or going to church, but not all are confident enough to take this first step without encouragement and advice.
In my view (ageing, with Luddite tendencies) our modern lifestyles don’t always help – they can actively discourage communication.
We probably can all remember the pensioner whose only contact is with the postman, who welcomes junk mail because it brings the postman to the door and at the supermarket we can be irritated by the elderly person who chats at the checkout but who cannot (or in my case will not) make use of the self-service machines.
In time there will inevitably be fewer of us who wish to pay our bills to a person, who do not wish to bank online (we chat to the cashier) and who want to talk to a friendly shop assistant rather than cope with an online Amazonian.
The Bus Pass is also a welcome addition to combating isolation: without this, getting out and about would be a prohibitive cost for many pensioners and the savings to the Health Service made by this excellent initiative cannot be calculated (although I expect someone has done just that!).
Whilst recognising in local government savings must be found, and I do not wish Canute-like to stem the tide of progress, I feel that we must still cater for those who prefer face-to-face communication.
Online is the future but for those living isolated lives it can be a bar to friendly interaction. A smile and a hello can make a small difference in combatting the blight of loneliness.