We should choose to tackle loneliness and isolation

JohannJohann Lamont MSP says choices in government to tackle loneliness and isolation among older people would help build a better society.


I could not have been the only one touched by the John Lewis Christmas advert, which symbolised the sense of isolation and loneliness felt by some older people by placing an elderly man on the moon – a world away from the happy celebrations of families on earth.

But the John Lewis message cannot just be for Christmas, to be discarded along with the wacky – and usually ill-advised – jumpers.

The reality for many looking towards old age is a fear of two things in particular. The first is the fear of dementia, of lost capacity and loss of self.

The second is a dread of loneliness. Outliving contemporaries and with families far away, left with little to do, few to see and with rare opportunities to be involved in the events and occasions that enrich our lives.

Health care, improved detection of dementia, effective care services and support for those looking after their loved ones must continue to improve, shaped by the experience and understanding of those who know best its impact and consequences.

But loneliness and isolation? Tackling these is important because they have such an impact on health and wellbeing but also surely because their cruelty ought to speak to a sense of compassion for those who suffer.

Addressing loneliness and isolation is not just about feeling sorry. It is about what kind of society we live in, what we teach our young people about caring for those who are older, how we support each other in our communities and how we prevent people feeling abandoned once their working lives or caring roles are over.

And it is not just about the role of the state and spending money – but there are choices we can make and decisions to take which will makes lives better and will address this blight on too many lives.

The job of government is to act, not wring its hands. If we want to address isolation, let’s do something basic: start with the person and then follow with action. The challenge is huge but for government there is a simple question – in what we do are we making things better or worse?

How many elderly people in some of our poorest communities rely on GPs who are busier, more under pressure and with access to fewer resources than their peers in better off areas? Often what they really need is time from their GP. But while the funding settlement allows doctors to spend unlimited amounts on drugs, it can deny them the means to tackle the underlying problem – which is often not a medical one at all.

It is ironic that an elderly patient from a more affluent area, suffering from loneliness and isolation, is more likely to be able to be given time by their GP than somebody coming from a poorer area.

This is not a theoretical argument about funding formulae. The government must address this fundamental injustice in spending that not only fails to tackle health inequality but exacerbates it

How many isolated older people have a bus pass but no bus to take them safely and easily to the shops? In my own constituency, for example, many routes now involve two buses where in the past there would only have been one. Faced with this, some have chosen to go out less, with increased isolation being the consequence. One small step would be for community transport to have access to the bus pass scheme on a fair basis, and for a direction of funding to those communities which would most benefit from effective bus services.

And if we understand that opportunities to meet with others, to go to lunch clubs, to be supported to go to the library or the church can be the difference between thriving and simply surviving. If we understand that, how do we support volunteers, who are often the bridge into an active life, when voluntary sector organisations are facing cuts? Why disproportionately cut local government with the consequence that those support services – which are not statutory but can be life enhancing – disappear and the lifeline away from isolation that they represent is withdrawn?

If we care about the issue of isolation, there are many things the government can do. In this, as so many things, don’t just tell us what you care about. Show us your budget.

We all responded to the man on the moon because it hit a nerve. We must all individually look to what we can do. But those with the privilege and responsibility of power can do much more. Let the money follow the need.

Otherwise we continue to isolate politics from the real world. And that is a bleak future for all of Scotland.

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11 thoughts on “We should choose to tackle loneliness and isolation

  1. Johann I am more concerned by the loneliness that candidates of the Scottish Labour section who are feeling very lonely indeed with the lack of support from the electorate for them in the run up to the Scottish elections and I think that considering you made as the then leader of the Scottish Labouf section your famouse speech attacking social security benefits, free prescriptions and free pensioners bus passes and supporting the Tory policy of means testing of all universal benefits of the people of Scotland is a disgrace and futhermore to see you now trying to put the blame of loneliness of old folks onto the Scottish government is desperate stuff this playing of the sentimental card will not prevent the predicted wipeout at the Scottish elections. .

  2. Johan, you stood firmly with the Tories and the resulting negative fallout for many elderly “british subjects” because of austerity politics is evident. “Budget” monies clawed back to finance war and annihilate the elderly in foreign areas?

    1. Indeed. “Something for nothing” Lamont is now trying to convince us she has compassion and sympathy for the needy.

      Wont be anybody buying it.

  3. “Johann Lamont MSP says choices in government to tackle loneliness and isolation among older people would help build a better society.”

    Very noble and worthwhile idea to pursue but how will it be better achieved within the Union where the people to be convinced are sitting in the Westminster Parliament full of right wing Neo Conservative fevor and zest and not in Edinburgh full of left wing Social Democratic sympathy understanding and compassion?

  4. Says she, who lost her job leading a party that is considered no more than a ‘branch office’, that has ‘no clue on Scotland’ and will happily abstain on anything that is detrimental to those who suffer under the Tories. Just what are Labour for?

    Johann, will you please express a genuine desire for independence? (I mean a *genuine* desire, not flannel). You guys might start to gain some credibility in the new, politically aware and engaged Scotland.

    Incidentally, is it not telling that the majority of comments on a Labour site are, well, anti-Labour? Dear-me.

  5. It is hard to disagree with anything Johann has said in her article. And, refreshingly, she has not resorted to couching it in terms of SNPbad.

    It is all laudable, however, there is no plan to tackle the problem anywhere in the piece. Its all very well to highlight a problem, especially one that is universal in Western society, but without a detailed and costed strategy to address it, it becomes mere hand-wringing. What will Labour actually DO to fix this … anything?

  6. It would be lovely if some of our posters could engage with a thoughtful article, rather than use the opportunity afforded them to rant, often barely coherently.

    Johann’s precisely right about the impact of cuts on LAs in turn hitting older people, and about the need to do better for older citizens.

    1. Interacting with the lonely can only be achieved on a social level not a political level. It requires each and every one of us to physically participate in contacting and interacting with those who require companionship.

      You cannot politicise compassion or motivation for compassion and understanding.

      If Johann Lamont is actually serious in her stated endevours then she must herself show society the way show leadership by example and not simply rhetoric.

      Get a hold of the BBC or ITV Take a film crew around the country Johann and highlight the plight of the lonely and show yourself actually physically doing something of your own back to help them. That’s how you reach out that’s how you connect.

      Spouting rhetoric from the back benches is worthless politicising.

    2. Nick you might not like to hear it but all the same It is good folk in the community for example relatives, volunteers, friends, neighbours, church organisations the like that look out for old folks concerns and by trying to use this issue as Johann has done is a desperate attempt at electioneering and I a sure it will be shown for what it is nothing more nothing less.

  7. Sorry but the minute i saw the article i thought please no.
    Is part of the story to destroy the Labour Party from within.
    Really you couldn’t make it up.
    Duncan any chance of vetting some of these articles.
    Remember it’s these very politicians that got us into this mess, not the membership.

  8. Johann

    Clement Atlee’s Post WW11 government faced the debts incurred during the war by introducing the NHS, and nationalising transport, mines etc and society pulled together. Today’s society appears to be disintegrating could this be due to cutbacks? Who knows but there seems to be a great feeling of loss in today’s world.

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