Free friendship phone service for older people launched
A free 24-hour dedicated helpline for older people across the UK has been launched by Esther Rantzen.
'The Silver Line' aims to combat loneliness in the over-65s by providing friendship, information and advice through calls to trained volunteers.
Chairwoman Ms Rantzen said she hoped the phone line number, 0800 4 70 80 90, would be remembered by all older people when they needed friendship or advice.
The phone line is funded by a £5m grant from the Big Lottery Fund.
The Department of Health has said that loneliness causes serious physical and mental damage. More than half of the UK's over-75s live alone.
"We will signpost them to the services in their community, and by showing them we value them and care about them we will restore their confidence and feelings of self-worth."
She added: "It is tragic that older people are so undervalued and isolated that they believe life is not worth living and that they are no longer part of the human race."
Last year, the Campaign to End Loneliness estimated that more than a million people in the UK feel trapped in their homes and around five million older people consider television their main form of company.
Recently the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was shameful that as many as 800,000 people in England were "chronically lonely".
Volunteers answering helpline calls will be encouraged to befriend older people and make regular friendship calls to them over a period of months.
Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said: "In our busy lives we too easily forget the thousands of older people who often go for days without seeing or speaking to anyone, or rely on the television for company.
"This service will help provide people with the companionship and support they deserve in their older years."
During an earlier pilot phase in the North East and North West of England, the Isle of Man and Jersey, the helpline was able to answer 7,000 calls from older people.
The helpline can be used by older people throughout the UK.
The charity Age UK, which runs its own telephone befriending service, welcomed the launch of Silver Line.
A spokeswoman said: "Older people can get in touch with their local Age UK to see how the charity can help through a range of services such as befriending which might include home visits and telephone calls for people who are feeling lonely or isolated.
"If anyone is worried about an older person this winter call Age UK Advice on 0800 169 65 65 for expert advice. Lines are open from 8am to 7pm, 365 days a year."