Jeremy Hunt highlights plight of 'chronically lonely'


Jeremy Hunt: "I am struck by the reverence and respect for older people in Asian culture"

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It is a source of "national shame" that as many as 800,000 people in England are "chronically lonely", Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

In a speech, Mr Hunt highlighted the "problem of loneliness that in our busy lives we have utterly failed to confront as a society".

"Some five million people say television is their main form of company," he said.

Labour accused of him trying to blame families for government failures.

In a speech at the National Children and Adults Services (NCAS) conference, Mr Hunt said: "Each and every lonely person has someone who could visit them and offer companionship.

"A forgotten million who live amongst us - ignored to our national shame."

'Reverence and respect'

He added: "According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, there are 800,000 people in England who are chronically lonely."

He also told delegates that the 112,000 cases of alleged abuse in care homes referred by English councils in 2012-13, the majority involving over-65s, indicated that "something is badly wrong".

But the regulation of care in both the private and public sector was improving, he argued.

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We find fairly horrifying the number of elderly people who feel the TV is their best friend”

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The Conservative MP said the new chief inspector of social care, Andrea Sutcliffe, would start to give ratings to care homes from April 2014 with a view to organising inspections of all 25,000 care homes by 2016.

Mr Hunt said he was "particularly worried" about the 400,000 people in care homes, some of whom get regular visits but others who were just "parked there".

He said that 46% of people aged 80 or over reported feeling lonely "some of the time or often".

He warned that loneliness was as "bad for you" as "smoking 15 cigarettes a day", was "worse than obesity" because of the risk of blood clots, heart disease and dementia, and warned that lonely people "drink more" and were more prone to early admission in residential or nursing care.

Mr Hunt also said he believed the UK should learn from Asian cultures where there was "reverence and respect for older people" and "residential care is a last rather than a first option".

"The social contract is stronger because as children see how their own grandparents are looked after, they develop higher expectations of how they too will be treated when they get old," he explained.

"If we are to tackle the challenge of an ageing society, we must learn from this - and restore and reinvigorate the social contract between generations.

"And uncomfortable though it is to say it, it will only start with changes in the way we personally treat our own parents and grandparents."

England should aim to become "the best place in the world to grow old in", he concluded.


But Labour said the "real national shame" was "Jeremy Hunt's attempt to shift the blame for dealing with the very real problems of loneliness amongst elderly people on to families alone".

The Health Effects

Living alone can be linked to habits that are bad for health.

Eating poorly and having less motivation to be physically active can be a consequence of being physically isolated.

Being alone can also affect mental health, causing people to feel low and depressed.

However, feeling lonely can in itself be bad for your physical health.

Studies have shown people who are socially isolated can cause damage to the immune system leading to a condition called chronic inflammation.

And other research suggested women who developed breast cancer were more likely to die of the disease if they saw few friends and family.

Shadow health and social care minister Liz Kendall said: "He seems completely unaware that there are over six million unpaid family carers in Britain today, one in five of whom provide more than 50 hours care a week for their loved ones.

"These unsung heroes save the taxpayer billions of pounds yet often get precious little support in return.

"Families, friends and neighbours need a decent care system to back up their efforts to look after elderly people, but the reality is our care system is in crisis and has been pushed to the brink of collapse.

"Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron need to take responsibly for their government's actions rather than trying to turn the clock back and say it's down to families alone."

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said on Twitter that Jeremy Hunt was "right to highlight isolation of older people".

He added: "But he can't get away from fact that Govt cuts to care have made it much worse."

But speaking on the BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Anthea Tinker, professor of social gerontology at King's College in London, said it was a "myth" that eastern Asian families placed greater reverence on families and older people than in the West.

Graphic showing number of people living alone in the UK

"The reality is that with one-child-families, children have often moved to a city or emigrated," she said.

"So it's just not practical for families to depend on their children. One of the largest nursing homes in the world is about to open in China, for 5,000 people, which is amazing."

Prof Tinker added: "We've got to look at the reality rather than the myth."

Mr Hunt's speech came as a BBC poll found that almost half of all adults said they experienced feelings of loneliness.

The survey of more than 2,500 adults in England was commissioned for BBC Radio 2 and BBC Local Radio's Faith In The World Week.

It also showed that people who practised a religion felt lonelier than those who did not.

London was identified the loneliest place with a figure of 52% compared with 45% in the south west of England.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    This raises disturbing issues - chronic social isolation reduces life expectancy by roughly 10 years - if these 800,000 were successfully integrated into society and lived for an additional ten years they would together need a further 8,000,000 years of pensions/care the costs of which would swallow up the entire NHS budget and more - a terrible choice confronts us

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Maybe Jeremy Hunt should ask whether on top of lonelyness these old people also feel cold.

    Whats an even greater "national shame" is that 10,000/15,000 pensioners die every year in UK from cold.

    Still, I suppose it frees up homes so Torys dont have to build them & early death from cold means less pensions payouts & less care services expense.

    & Torys say they care, lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Too many people complaining about the cuts. When will they ever understand that the Government can never do everything for us and we collectively have to start taking much more responsibility for ourselves AND our Families AND our Neighbours!

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    As the struggle intensifies, isolation seems inevitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    This is just like Thrasher Mitchell highlighting the plight of the poor when he was Overseas Development minister whilst sending his own donations offshore to the caribbean.
    Hunt has even less moral credibility than Mitchell.
    Watching these hypocritical clowns faux empathy is truly sickening.

    Same old tories...

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    The government need to build more accommodation for pensioners that provide independent living with care attached. Your own place in an apartment block rent or own, at least 1 meal per day provided, carers on site, arranged entertainment, communal lounge area. It means moving, but most on their own are rattling around in a house they cannot upkeep and as this article is about, no contact for days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Maybe some people, like me, are content with our own company...and if I do want to meet people there are hundreds of cheap/free clubs and societies (especially for the elderly). Just go down the library (or online) and find one.

    Maybe we don't want tax payer funded 'red coats' breaking into our houses and making us play carpet bowls.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I don't know why people constantly go on about the rich etc as being uncaring, some of the most rude, selfish, disrespectful uncaring people I have ever known have been from lower income families.

    Many of the more affluent people I know support local care homes, hospices and other local charities with not just money but personal time as well (so not a tax dodge).

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    How sweet of you to care Mr Hunt considering your party are either starving or freezing many pensioners to death and now threatening to cut off their right to go out by removing the free bus pass! One wonders what "cut" this precedes from your mate Gideon - perhaps its removal to the workhouse where we can have company

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    The govt cuts to services for the elderely are outrageous and its this that is our national shame!! I do think however that it is our responsibility to make the effort for our parents. My mum says her generation was materially poor but ours is relationally poor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    It's never lonely on HYS

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Good Message.

    BUT - Delivered by Jeremy Hunt!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Don't worry about looking after your parents.
    >The cut's to the social safety net
    >Decline in wages and therefore nutrition of the poor
    >Increase in inequality and poverty
    >Demise of the NHS

    The next generation of elderly will be dead before you know it so you wont have to look after them for long....

    If you vote tory, and agree with all this, you are probably a sociopath. Fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Politicians don't care about the elderly and disabled. As a disabled person I expect them to bring back workhouses and I fear that I will die in one. This is just hypocrasy that adds insult to injury.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    @70 Ichabod - Since Jeremy Hunt is responsible for stealth-privatising the NHS, perhaps that is why my comment got so many up arrows.

    Sometimes the truth hurts, yeah ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    It is so easy in our modern world to be too busy. I know I am as guilty as most people and I could do more so thank you for reminding me Mr Hunt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    New rules for living wills not needing a witness will allow the NHS, Law & Government to let lonely people sign their own death warrant. And once they seem a burden they can withhold food & drink with no recourse from anyone. So no more bad press for the Liverpool Pathway. In WW2 that type of action was a crime against humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Why does everyone think it's just the elderly who are lonely? I'm autistic and have chronic pain and chronic fatigue and getting through each week when I have several days a week I never speak to another person except maybe to purchase something in a shop can be dreadful. Then you feel relieved at getting through another week ... only to realise you're just beginning the next week ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    An only-child who has never worked is now, after her husband died 10 years ago, a childless widow at the age of 89 with nobody on this Earth to visit her or even give 2p stuff about her. Her meagre State Pension doesn't cover the costs of her Care Home expenses, so what is Hunt (carefully spelled) going to do for this frail old lady. Assisted Suicide is high on her agenda - but not yet legal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    As a student, soon to be drowning in debt, i will gladly spend my spare time visiting lonely pensioners as long as they agree to share the free bus travel and tv they get. Deal?


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