Kate Jopling is Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness.

All blogs are the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Age.

In October 2013 Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt described loneliness as our national shame. He called on families to do more to address the loneliness of their older relatives.

This high profile attention is welcome, but in reality loneliness is not just a private issue to be addressed within families, but a serious and growing public health challenge which, unaddressed, could spell disaster for our public services, the economy and our wider society.

Around 10% of people over 65 experience chronic loneliness – the daily gnawing sense of a gulf between the relationships we need to sustain us, and the ones we have. These levels have been consistent over recent decades, across different areas, and between different communities. As our ageing population grows, more people than ever will be cut off from wider society, their potential untapped, their contributions ignored. Their mental and physical health will suffer, and their demands on our already stretched public services will grow.

We simply cannot afford to continue to allow older people to be cast aside. We need to take action now to ensure that people can remain connected to the people they care about as they age – with adequate income, suitable housing, appropriate transport, and effective care and support to overcome the obstacles that the onset of disability in later life can present. In short we need age-friendly communities, to sustain, refresh and renew our social lives as we age.

But we also need to reach those people for whom loneliness is already a problem. We need to support people to overcome the emotional obstacles to making new connections – including the loss of confidence associated with loneliness – and practical support– encompassing everything from a lift, to a broadband connection. Organisations all around the UK are already working to tackle loneliness, offering solutions as diverse the Men’s Sheds where men meet to restore tools and regain the camaraderie once offered by the workplace, to Tai Chi classes and telephone book groups.

However we won’t really see a step-change until loneliness is recognised as the public health challenge it is, and our national and local strategies tackle it. Only when loneliness is given its rightful place in strategic plans for our communities will we see action at every level it is needed – from the decision about where to place a bus stop so that older people can get out and about, to funding for vital befriending services.

What do you think needs to happen to make the UK the best country to grow older in?

What concerns you most about growing older and why?

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