The hidden cost of living alone

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IT is only when the number of people in Yorkshire affected by loneliness is placed in wider context that the scale of the challenge facing the NHS – and society – becomes more clear.

The statistic is a stark one. The 91,300 senior citizens who admit to feeling lonely equates to the number of people who live in the town centres of Harrogate and Knaresborough.

However, just because this issue does not tug at the emotional heart-strings like cancer or dementia, many local authorities across Yorkshire still need to be encouraged to do even more to recognise the plight of pensioners and others who find themselves living on their own.

As the Campaign to End Loneliness makes clear in today’s newspaper, the effects of social isolation can equate to an individual smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The charity’s Kate Jopling makes clear in her powerful piece on the opposite page that people living on their own – either because of family bereavement or their own circumstances – are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol to excess, eat convenience meals rather than fresh fruit and vegetables and take insufficient exercise.

These are all social taboos which have been the subject of extensive campaigns in order to counter Britain’s obesity epidemic and persuade individuals to lead healthier lifestyles.

Yet, despite the demands of the cash-strapped NHS being exacerbated by those who drink or smoke to excess, there is still a reluctance on the part of health chiefs in some areas to recognise loneliness as a medical condition that needs to be addressed.

This must change, hence why this newspaper has teamed up the Campaign to End Loneliness to raise awareness about this condition – and care ambiguities – ahead of a major summit in April.

In return, we ask readers to do three things. First, we want as many individuals as possible to download a campaign letter from our website and send it to their local health and wellbeing board. People power can make a difference.

Second, we hope this campaign will prompt people to consider how they can help a relative – or neighbour – who lives alone and who might be too afraid to ask for help or just some companionship.

Third, it is our sincere wish that more people become volunteers with the care services that are a lifeline to the frail and vulnerable. By tapping into the renowned public-spiritedness of Yorkshire people, this region can become a happier – and healthier – place for all.

Back councillors over village greens

WHEN the poet William Blake paid homage to “England’s green and pleasant land” in his stirring prose which inspired the uplifting anthem Jerusalem, he could have been referring to Clayton Fields in Huddersfield.

This six-acre oasis has been a focal point for residents of Edgerton since time immemorial – and its importance to the local community was formally recognised in 1996 when it was given ‘village green’ status and the legal protection that this offers the site from the threat of developers. Its social benefits were perfectly illustrated when residents clubbed together to buy a lawnmower so the green could be kept neat and be used for outdoor events like barbecues.

Yet, after a protracted legal battle that has wasted an inordinate amount of time and money, the Supreme Court has now decided to ride roughshod over the views of local families and withdraw this special status from Clayton Fields. Unless campaigners, including the Open Spaces Society, can find a way to overturn this decision, there is now every likelihood that the site will be developed by the end of the decade.

It is a decision that defies belief on two fronts. First, brownfield sites – rather than precious open space – should be the priority for all new developments. Second, it should not be up to unaccountable judges in the Supreme Court to determine policy like this; the power should rest with elected councillors whose decisions can be held to account by local voters. This is not a new concept – it is called democracy and it goes to the core of David Cameron’s localism agenda.

Commemorate war with dignity

THE wise words of Roger Preston, a retired brigadier and the chairman of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Association, should be heeded and epitomise the spirit of events marking the First World War’s centenary. This is not a time for riotous celebrations. It should be a period of quiet commemoration so that today’s generations can reflect upon the sacrifices made by their ancestors in the name of liberty.

As Mr Preston said with such eloquence: “I think it is important that we learn from history – a failing of our leaders very often is they don’t learn from history.” A charge levelled against Tony Blair when Britain become embroiled in military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is even more pertinent to the grisly events that took place on Europe’s bloody battlefields a century ago.

A conflict that was supposed to be ‘the war to end all wars’, its fragile peace lasted just 21 years and it would be entirely inappropriate if commemorative events did not reflect the conflict’s savagery and the human endeavour behind each and every name etched onto war memorials across the land.