Britain’s care for its elderly lags behind Europe

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Elderly people in Britain are lonelier and poorer that those in similar European countries, international research suggests.

They are also more concerned about age discrimination than some of their European neighbours and feel more negative towards young people, a Demos report has found.

More over-65s in this country suffer life-limiting illnesses than in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, it said.

The UK was graded third among the four countries in its overall performance across a range of areas considered in the report prepared for older people’s charity WRVS.

One reason for the sense of solitude felt by the elderly may be long-term underinvestment by local authorities in services that reduce isolation, it was argued.

The poor score in elderly people’s health might reflect unhealthy lifestyles in the UK, with higher rates of alcohol consumption and obesity than in the other three countries, the Ageing Across Europe report suggested.

By contrast, in Sweden, where older people are the healthiest of those across the four countries, public policy focuses on improving health earlier on in life to ensure a healthier old age.

Of the four countries, Britain’s over-65s were found to face the highest chance of living in poverty, with a fifth of pensioners at risk in 2010, compared with only six per cent in the Netherlands.

Older women in the UK were more concerned about age discrimination than older men, the study found.

WRVS chief executive David McCullough said: “The treatment of older people in this country needs to be addressed and we must learn from our EU partners.

“They have proved it is possible to tackle some of these issues by taking advantage of volunteers to provide older people with more social contact and better links to their communities.

“This, in turn, will have a knock-on beneficial impact on their health.”

The study recommended more volunteering to provide peer support to older people and boost their social life, and annual government reports on Britain’s older population measuring progress against other European Union countries.

The UK should also explore what else can be done to encourage intergenerational mingling, it suggested.

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said: “Lack of day-to-day contact can have a huge impact on people’s health.

“The Government is working with the Campaign to End Loneliness to raise awareness about how important even a simple phone call or visit can be to someone’s health.

“We will be setting out in our care and support White Paper how we will work with the voluntary sector, businesses, local communities and others to put tackling loneliness on the agenda.”