Sheffield speech: Older people and the loneliness epidemic

Posted by Natalie Bennett on 3rd June 2017

Speech given in Broomhill with Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack and veteran Green Party campaigner Anne Power.

Imagine living a life where your most reliable companion is your television.

Imagine waking up each morning and knowing that you won’t see or hear from anyone between your breakfast and the time you go back to bed.

Imagine struggling to make it to your local GP surgery without assistance despite serious ill health and disability.

For many millions of people across Britain, this is not something they have to imagine. It’s not even a nightmare. It’s a reality.

Loneliness amongst older people is at epidemic levels in this country.

Over half of people over the age of 75 live alone. One in 10 older people only receive contact from friends or family once a month.

So much for the big society. This government has created the lonely society.

It’s nothing short of a travesty.

It’s a reflection of the kind of uncaring politics that gets played out in Westminster every day. It means those most in need of a helping hand get ignored, shunned, and neglected.

The shameful thing is, it’s not like these problems are incredibly difficult to fix. Visiting care homes and speaking to older people and it is clear that what they want is someone to talk to, to have fun with, and to visit places with, if that’s possible.

How hard can that be? When we are spending £110bn on a nuclear weapon system but not on tackling social ills like loneliness, what kind of a country are we?

The Green Party believes in creating a confident and caring Britain, one that supports every generation and helps them to support each other.

That doesn’t mean a completely radical shift. It just means returning to the values that matter to all of us.

It means investing in social care, improving the Carers’ Allowance, and uprating the pay of paid carers to a genuine living wage so that there are more people on hand to support those living alone.

It means creating caring communities: ensuring that public services are accessible to older people and preventing the degradation of neighbourhoods - their post offices, their community centres, their GP surgeries - that provide a lifeline to older people and are the lifeblood of society.

It means supporting the small local shops that people can reach easily and that are a social hub as well as a source of essential items. For some it means a local community pub - something we’re losing at great speed (all too often for conversion to luxury flats or more supermarket convenience stores).

It means keeping up local bus services so people aren't trapped in their own homes for lack of public transport.

It means rebalancing our economy so that it supports, rather than penalises, those who need to care for family, a friend or a loved-one.

Ultimately, the policy of a universal basic income, a citizens’ income, would deliver that security, the foundation that would remove worry and fear.

And addressing our work-life balance -- as the Green Party wants to do in moving towards a four-day working week -- so that even those working fulltime have the chance to pop around for a cup of tea or  spend some time on a multi-generation family excursion.

A vote for the Green Party on June 8th will send a message that this has to end.

That Britain can be confident and caring. That it can look after all people old and young. UKIP changed the political narrative in 2015 with just one MP but 13% of the vote. Imagine the same happening in reverse. What a future that would be.

Let’s bring an end to the lonely society and welcome the dawn of the caring society.