The number of elderly people living alone and vulnerable to the devastating effects of loneliness is set to rise in Yorkshire by the end of the decade.
More than a quarter of a million elderly people will live alone in Yorkshire by 2020, an investigation as part of The Yorkshire Post’s Loneliness campaign has revealed.
In just six years’ time, an extra 2,500 65 to 84 years olds will be living alone - more than the population of villages like Holmfirth, Denby Dale and Flamborough, projected figures from the Department of Communities and Local Government show.
And the scale of the problem could be even higher, as an ageing population remains independent in their homes well into their 90s.
Jack Neill-Hall, campaigns manager at the Campaign to End Loneliness, said that increasing numbers will be living alone because of changes to the make up of families and households.
He said: “If we do nothing, this is obviously going to increase these peoples’ risk of experiencing loneliness and the health risks that are associated.
“But just because someone is living alone does not mean they will inevitably be lonely. We need to make sure we are investing in the preventative services that are needed to help anyone that might be at risk on loneliness.”
Rural areas are set to see the largest rises in older people living alone, with North Yorkshire’s Hambleton, Craven and Ryedale seeing the biggest rises in the region.
The county faces a rapidly ageing population - with one in four people in North Yorkshire being over 65 by the end of the decade.
Last month North Yorkshire County Council announced that almost £1m would be given to voluntary and community groups working with elderly people in across the county to tackle loneliness, reduce falls, and support people in their own homes. The Innovation Fund, which is jointly funded by NHS Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven CCG and Craven District Fund, is part of a wider drive to help people maintain their independence.
Sue Vasey, chief executive of social enterprise Your Consortium, which manages the fund, said that a combination of high property prices and attractive retirement communities was pushing out young people and encouraging an influx of older people. But when older people find themselves living alone through bereavement, they can be reluctant to seek help and the devastating effects of loneliness can creep in.
Mrs Vasey said: “We have to look at ways to draw people into the community. It can be very small things that can bring people down - a cataract that means they can no longer drive and are now stuck in the home.
“North Yorkshire is very forward thinking in looking at what it can do now to tackle the problem, but it’s a very complex issue.”
Mervyn Kohler, Age UK’s external affairs advisor, said more had to be done plug gaps in social care and tackle reduced funding for voluntary organisation.
He said: “We neglect this at our peril. We’re never going to afford a national social services infrastructure that can look after the needs of everybody - we have to have community organisations and volunteers filling in the gaps. We ought to be looking at the impact of loneliness on society and find better strategies to deal with it.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said it was working with partners like the Campaign to End Loneliness to reduce isolation.
She added: “Every one of us can help to combat loneliness and we all need to be more creative about how we help elderly people and the chronically lonely to feel more a part of society.”