Loneliness and isolation is one of the most significant issues facing the older generation in Wales so Welsh Government plans not to publish its strategy to tackle the issue until 2019 is ‘disappointing’ says a National Assembly committee.
The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee heard that around half a million people in Wales feel lonely always or often, and that a lack of social interaction is as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The Committee was also concerned that the extent of the problem could be much worse than is currently assumed, as people are too ashamed to admit they are lonely.
Lack of public transport, especially in the evenings, was seen as a significant factor in contributing to loneliness and isolation. The Committee heard that some villages were completely cut off because they do not have a bus service.
Committee witnesses also talked about the irony of having a free bus pass when many do not have access to a bus service.
Loneliness is Wales’ silent killer and we need to recognise the importance of tackling isolation in Welsh communities.
Loneliness is a significant public health risk – as damaging as smoking – and we need to take urgent steps to improve quality of life for older people in society. 2019 will come too late for thousands of older people suffering in isolation.
We need to see a greater focus from the Welsh Government on developing innovative policy solutions to improve quality of life for older people – including the long promised, but never delivered integration of health and social care.”
During discussions with service users and service providers, Members were told of the benefits of inter-generational contact, where young people and older people swap skills and experiences.
Numerous examples of excellent work by voluntary organisations across the country were highlighted, but the short term nature of funding, which had resulted in the closure of some schemes, was an area of considerable concern.
However, the Committee found that a strategy that would set the priorities and direction for tackling the problem wouldn’t be published by the Welsh Government until 2019.
“Wales has a higher percentage of older people within its population than any other part of the UK and often this means people are more reliant on social services and have more complex needs,” said Dai Lloyd AM, Chair of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee.
“The effect of loneliness and isolation is profound, it can have both mental and physical consequences. That the Welsh Government isn’t planning on publishing its strategy to tackle these issues until 2019 isn’t good enough and we call on ministers to speed-up that timetable.
“The evidence we heard about the benefits of inter-generational contact is encouraging and we would like to see more research in this area to properly evaluate the benefits.
“We have also seen and heard about outstanding examples around the country of voluntary and community groups coming together to support people.
“We want to see greater stability of funding so that individuals and organisations delivering such excellent work on the ground can be confident in being able to provide these vital services long term.”
The Committee makes several recommendations in its report, including:
-The Welsh Government review the timescales for the development of its strategy to address loneliness and isolation, with a view to publication before 2019;
-The Welsh Government works with the voluntary sector and local government to secure the funding stability needed by voluntary sector organisations to continue to provide vital support services for people experiencing loneliness and isolation by introducing three year funding programmes;
-The Welsh Government undertakes an evaluation to assess the impact of intergenerational contact on people experiencing loneliness and isolation.