Call for Older People’s Commissioner to stamp out loneliness

POLITICAL parties should pledge to introduce an Older People’s Commissioner to ensure the elderly are given a powerful voice, a Think Tank has urged.

Care Minister Norman Lamb. Picture: Katie Collins/PA Wire
Care Minister Norman Lamb. Picture: Katie Collins/PA Wire

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post as part of it Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign, James Kempton, Associate Director, at CentreForum, said an Older People’s Commissioner for England, like that already in place in Wales, would ensure older people’s issues “aren’t swept under the carpet.”

He said: “We need someone to stand up for older people.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

“Loneliness is a taboo subject, people are just starting to talk about it. We’re calling on all parties to pledge to have an Older People’s Commissioner should they be in Government next year.”

It is six months since The Yorkshire Post highlighted the terrible scale of loneliness in the region.

Lonely people are more likely to develop dementia or die from a heart attack or stroke. It can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Major figures in the Conservative Party, Labour Party and Liberal Democrats have backed the campaign.

CentreForum’s call for an Older People’s Commissioner has had high profile support from Sarah Rochira, who currently holds the role in Wales, who said many older people feel “marginalised”. Former care minister and Liberal Democrat MP Paul Berstow has also offered support.

Silver Line founder Esther Rantzen, has also voiced her support for the idea.

The Liberal Democrats said they could not commit to manifesto pledges until after the party’s Autumn Conference, but Care Minister Norman Lamb said tackling loneliness and social isolation would “continue to be one of the top priorities for the Liberal Democrats.”

He said: “Our health and care system must constantly ask itself, “how do we give people a good life”, and not just ‘what services can we deliver’. There are too many people who are elderly, vulnerable, or disabled across the country who live in crippling loneliness, not seeing other human beings from one day to the next.

“Campaigns like the one run by The Yorkshire Post play an incredibly important role in raising people’s awareness of this problem, and helping people realise what they can do locally to make a difference.”

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said the party believed older people need a strong advocate. Mr Burnham, who backed the Loneliness campaign in February, said Labour’s plans for an integrated health and care system included more support in the home for older people “increasing their face to face contact with people beyond the poor 15 minute visits that have become endemic.”

He said: “We need to look at powerful rights for individuals to pull the system towards a person-centred service, with more options for care in the home; with carers supported not ignored and with equal value placed on mental and physical health.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said any pledges for future policy would come out later, but highlighted policies already in place to tackle loneliness.

In July, the Department of Work and Pensions appointed former Saga director-general Dr Ros Altmann as its new Business Champion for Older Workers. She will champion over-50s in the workplace.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the Government was not currently considering introducing an Older People’s Commissioner for England.