The “devastating” isolation experienced by many elderly people living in rural areas is revealed today as experts, Government advisers and regional charities join forces to call for fresh measures to support vulnerable people in the countryside.
A major report by the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) has outlined how the under-funding of councils in rural areas, shortages of appropriate housing and the difficulties caused by a lack of public transport and high fuel costs are leaving many elderly people isolated at the time in their life when they most need support.
Today a series of rural charities in Yorkshire warn of the “huge gaps” in service provision in the region’s picturesque countryside which they are scrambling to fill, against a backdrop of ever-reducing funding.
Shelagh Marshall, a North Yorkshire councillor who chairs the region’s forum on ageing and helped produce the CRC report, said: “The effects of isolation and loneliness can be devastating.
“In rural areas the percentage of older people is above average, and we need positive action.”
The report sets out in stark detail how the difficulties afflicting many elderly people across the UK – such as ill health, isolation and high fuel costs – are significantly exacerbated by the unique circumstances of rural life.
Almost a quarter of the UK’s rural population are over retirement age, compared with 18 per cent in urban areas. Yet the cost of providing social care to older people in rural communities is higher than in towns and cities.
The CRC finds clear evidence that many local authorities are having to charge more, or provide care only to the most needy, in rural areas as they try to stretch ever-decreasing budgets.
“Despite the greater costs of delivering services, (care) budgets tend to be lower in rural areas than urban,” the report states.
“Faced with reduced funding levels, local authorities are having to restrict funded social care to individuals with more pressing needs, instead of being able to fund preventative care.
“This increases the risk of social isolation for others.”
As public spending continues to be cut back, the CRC concludes “much will depend on the energy, enthusiasm, and leadership qualities of local people” to fill the gaps.
Rural charities across the region are striving to support elderly people – but are also under pressure from the economic downturn, with donations and public sector grants increasingly scarce.
Leah Swain, chief officer of Rural Action Yorkshire, said: “We are already working hard to support rural communities to support their residents who are at risk of poverty and isolation.
“We are running a range of support programmes to help communities think about how they can offer local services in their village hall, support recently-bereaved individuals, and also protect vulnerable residents during the winter. However, more still needs to be done – particularly in light of the public spending cuts.”
Involve Yorkshire and Humber, which represents voluntary groups across the region, said charities are reporting huge difficulties in maintaining the basic levels of funding they require.
“Voluntary and community organisations which are vital in the support network for people are seeing cuts in their funding,” Involve said.
“Not only are these organisations becoming smaller as a result, some are actually disappearing altogether.”