Headlines: March 16th, 2005

A renewed focus on tackling isolation and social exclusion among older people will be at the centre of a strategy for an ageing society due to be published shortly. A new report from the Social Exclusion Unit identifies independence, choice, prevention of exclusion and isolation as the key issues the strategy will address.The report finds that while significant progress has been made in tackling pensioner poverty, those on lowest income still experience the greatest exclusion, disadvantage and ill health. It shows the importance of tackling isolation as well as income in order to improve older people’s quality of life. The report reveals that around 30 percent of people over 65 do not see any friends at least once a week, and 1 in 6 people aged 65 and over are affected by depression. 60 per cent of people aged 65 and over have a long standing illness. Although the poorest third of pensioners are £1,900 a year better off in real terms than in 1997, 2.1 million still live on low incomes.

Three main elements of the strategy will be early support and preventative services, rather than crisis interventions when action could be too late and greater control and choice for older people to avoid untimely dependency. The third element will be more ‘joined up’ services – linking support from benefits to housing to health – to provide greater flexibility, tailoring and seamless access to services, as through the Link-Age programme. It is expected that the strategy will also provide for an opening up of choices in education, leisure and social activities.

Paul Cann, Director of Policy and Research at Help the Aged said: “Help the Aged welcomes this timely report from the Social Exclusion Unit. It sheds new light on the problems faced by many isolated and vulnerable older people in Britain today. But it also shows that the Government and the voluntary sector can work together to ensure all older people have the support they need to remain full members of society.”