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 131.

    123. Polly8122

    That's a good point. Many chronically lonely people don't realise there are so many social opportunities available to them . Either that or they don't make the effort to find out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Totally agree, empiredown 111. Instead of sitting around moping why don't they get out there? In my village you could be involved in over a dozen social/community/voluntary groups without going more than 200 yards! U3A, WI, book clubs, all manners of local societies. And if you can't leave the house you could get online and be a silver surfer. You can lead a horse to water...

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    It's not just old people that get lonely, thanks to globalization and having jobs sent abroad many people have to move long distances to find work. I've had to move a long way to get a job, I've left all my friends and family behind, also I'm asexual; I don't ever want to have a relationship. If only there were local jobs I wouldn't be so lonely as I would have my family close by.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    it's a good idea that the relatives should look after the elderly but;
    everyone in the family has to work to make ends meet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    800,000 chronically lonely, 800,000 illegal and at least 50,000,000 totally fed up with the likes of Jeremy and his self interested false concern !

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Hunt does plenty of highlighting of many problems in healthcare but I have never really seen him offer any solutions for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    No matter how lonely you are if over 60 steer clear of the NHS you will be on a starvation diet within days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I'm sure cutting the length of healthcare visits to 15 minutes will help..

    Oh, I have the answer! Privatize visiting the elderly.. what's that? No profit in it?

    Perhaps, then, we could all chip in somehow to help out those in need.. you know, some sort of system where the very wealthy would give a larger amount.. what's that? can't do that, it would be socialism..

    I suppose we're stuffed then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    We don't really to learn from other cultures, we need to resurrect a few of our own traditions. In the past loneliness was minimised by local communities using their high streets, local pubs, churches, sports teams (crown green bowls) etc. I think the govt could encourage these more than it does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Just now

    Why doesn't Hunt offer up the 100k he cheated from the Exchequer earlier this year to helping this could be a step on his road to redemption, him being a fully fledged christian and all.


    He`s just there to state the obvious not help with solutions. Perish the thought he ever did something constructive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    I will say this one of the main problem in UK. Social bonds, Family Relationships all vanished. People started thinking even marriage as old fashion, but wedding the is the basic glue of the well formed society. IF WEDDING FAILS, FAMILY WILL FAIL,THEN THE SOCIETY & NATION WILL FAIL.Human is a social animal, he need social relationship so a water required for fish. SAVE THIS NATION BEFORE IT DIES.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    The people deserve the Government they get.

    Why don't you REMEMBER next time.

  • Comment number 119.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Why doesn't Hunt offer up the 100k he cheated from the Exchequer earlier this year to helping this could be a step on his road to redemption, him being a fully fledged christian and all.

    Stooge or pay per post?

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    First of all it's obviously not just the old that are lonely and marginalised
    If you think you've got few friends or relatives now wait and see what happens if you have a long-term mental illness,they become an endangered species for the majority.
    Chuck in major cuts to council budgets & totally arbitrary limits applied with the bar set so high you need to learn the Fosbury Flop.
    Dependable = ££

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Cameron says the Big Society and Thatcher said there was no such thing as society Plus our so called busy lifestyles in my view is a cover for the selfish society. My mum died 2 years ago and I popped in every other day and took her shopping she said sorry to be a burden on you I replied well if you raised me from 0-20 me thinks I can take the time to go shopping

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Maybe he could start by focusing on town centres becoming more friendly for those even above the age of 40. Too many are now cesspits occupied by the drunken cohorts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Reading this, I think I'm "clinically fed up". I might drive to Dundee in my bare feet. With a Toblerone. And I don't mean a small one. I'm talking.....a medium one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    I would have thought that you'd be happy for elderly folks to die lonely just the same as you're happy to let disabled people die at the hands of ATOS. After all its saves avaricious pig-troughers like you a bit eh Hunt? Maybe you could use the money saved to feather the nests of your wealthy backers in more tax cuts? Just the same old nasty Tory party playing the same old cynical games.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    I know some words that rhymes with Hunt, one in particular comes to mind.

    Familys forced apart due to moving to work places.

    Familys forced apart due to bedroom tax

    Familys unable to take in other family members because of inadequate housing.

    A benefits system that punishes familys for staying together.

    Negligent economic/social policy that creates society we live in


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