By Jo Cox – From the Mirror online
As a working mum with two children under five, I’m sure I’m not alone in often wishing for a little quiet time to myself.
But for a lot of people, solitude is all they know.
Last month a report said one in five people over 60 feel they have no one to turn to. And five million older folk say the television is their main source of company.
There is also new evidence that social isolation can be as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The reality is that loneliness is reaching epidemic levels, and not just among older people. Before Christmas the Prime Minister hosted receptions for volunteers and older people to raise awareness of loneliness. That’s great. But a lot more is needed if we’re serious about tackling it.
This crisis is driven by three things, an older ageing population, changing family structures and lifestyles, and Government policy.
The first two aren’t easy to fix, so getting the third right becomes all the more important.
Yet, at present, the Tories are getting it badly wrong with hugely underfunded social care and a lack of joined up services. Trying to pick up the pieces is an army of volunteers, befrienders and good neighbours.
I met David, a volunteer with the Royal Voluntary Service in my constituency, who visits an elderly man every week for a chat.
My mother-in-law Sheila helps recruit volunteers who do the same, and in her spare time visits older people from the local church community.
These visits are a lifeline for people who might not otherwise see another person from one week to the next.
People like David and Sheila are also stepping in to sort out a wide range of issues that should be being dealt with by professionals. They are nothing short of heroes and they deserve recognition.
Volunteers are a key part of solving this crisis but they can’t do it alone. That’s why I’ll be campaigning in 2016 for the Government to raise its game.
The Campaign to End Loneliness, along with Age UK and others, are doing excellent work.
They want government to get a better grip on the scale of this crisis and develop a properly funded strategy to tackle it, including higher quality and more targeted services for the most lonely.
If we are serious about tackling this problem the Prime Minister needs to spend more time not only meeting volunteers but helping them do their job by him doing his.