Describing the treatment of older people as a “national shame”, Mr Hunt used a speech in Harrogate to urge a fundamental shift in attitudes.
“We know there is a broader problem of loneliness that in our busy lives we have utterly failed to confront as a society,” he said.
“Forty-six percent of people aged 80 or over report feeling lonely some of the time or often. Some five million people say television is their main form of company – that’s 10 per cent of the population.
“Each and every lonely person has someone who could visit them and offer companionship.”
Drawing on the experiences of his Chinese wife, Mr Hunt told the National Children and Adults Services conference he was “struck by the reverence and respect for older people in Asian culture”.
He added: “In those countries, when living alone is no longer possible, residential care is a last rather than a first option.
“And 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.
“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.”
Mr Hunt also raised concerns about abuse of the elderly, telling delegates that 112,000 cases of alleged abuse were referred by English councils in 2012/13, the majority involving over-65s.
“Something is badly wrong in a society where potentially 1,000 such instances are happening every single week,” he said.
Mr Hunt said the new Chief Inspector of Social Care, Andrea Sutcliffe, will act as a champion of the people who use adult social services – the nation’s whistleblower-in-chief.
“Andrea will start giving ratings to care homes from April 2014, and all locations – some 25,000 in total – will be inspected by March 2016 and then receive official ratings,” he said. “These will be accessible to the public online and easy to understand.
“She is absolutely right to demand that they all pass a ‘good enough for my mum’ test and to denounce a tick-box culture.
“The involvement of ‘experts by experience’, residents, carers and specialist inspectors will make a huge difference.
“Just as we know how good all our local schools are thanks to rigorous, independent inspections by Ofsted, I want us all to know how good our local care is.”
Campaigners yesterday urged Mr Hunt to follow his words with Government action in support of organisations who work to combat isolation among older people.
Kate Jopling, director for the Campaign to End Loneliness, said loneliness was “not just a moral outrage, but also a serious public health issue which deserves a comprehensive response.
“We now need to put in place the services which can prevent and alleviate loneliness and thereby reduce the suffering of thousands of older people and help bring under control the spiralling costs of treating preventable ill-health.”
David McCullough, chief executive at Royal Voluntary Service, said: “It is vital that Government and third sector organisations work hand-in-hand and that Government acknowledges and supports the role that volunteers could and do play in helping older people who are lonely.”