Older people's charity Independent Age is calling for an urgent rethink of how the UK government delivers coronavirus guidance, with new polling suggesting that nearly half of over-70s could be self-isolating unnecessarily.
An Independent Age poll of UK adults over 65, carried out. by Opinium, found. that 43% of people incorrectly believed that the government had instructed over-70s without any underlying health conditions to shield themselves by not leaving the house.
In fact, UK government guidance for this group – classed as clinically vulnerable – is to stay at home as much as possible and “take particular care” in social distancing. Only those with certain conditions, classed as extremely clinically vulnerable (such as those with specific cancers), have been advised to stay at home at all times.
Less than one-third (30%) correctly identified the correct guidance for over-70s without underlying health conditions.
The results suggests that thousands of people in later life around the UK may have completely shielded themselves and lived in isolation, when they could have left the house for socially distanced exercise and shopping for essentials.
The polling also showed that 28% of respondents - well over a quarter - found the guidance for over-70s unclear or very unclear.
Ahead of an unexpected easing of lockdown restrictions next week, Independent Age is calling for the government to introduce targeted messages and broadcast advertising to the clinically vulnerable group - including healthy over-70s - and clarifying what is meant by 'particular care', using real life examples.
The charity is also asking the government to clarify that not everyone aged over 70 is classed as extremely clinically vulnerable and needing to shield themselves.
Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said:
“Given the results of this polling, we have very real concerns that many people aged over 70 have self-isolated unnecessarily during the lockdown, instead of being able to, with caution, leave the house for essentials and exercise.
“People of all ages in our community are doing their very best to follow the advice of government – but when language like ‘take particular care’ is used without any context or practical examples, it makes that effort extremely difficult.
“We want the government to urgently clarify its messages to over-70s, as well as working with voluntary organisations to empower people in later life to understand their risk from COVID-19 and learn how to manage it. This could include working with organisations like ours to inform and test messages.
“More thought needs to go into the channels being used for these messages. Many people aged over 70 are not regular internet users, and currently advertising in broadcast media is targeted at the general public, rather than explaining guidance to the clinically vulnerable group, which includes over-70s.”
74-year-old Oxfordshire resident Yvonne De Burgo said she felt that the advice to older people from the government had been chaotic.
“I wasn’t told I was at risk until weeks into the lockdown,” she said. “Luckily I am sensible and had already been social distancing, but it is confusing.
“Even now, because I haven’t been classed as ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’, I can’t get support with things like shopping or accessing my prescription. I am just appalled.”
Independent Age has advice how older people can stay safe and connected during the COVID-19 lockdown on its website: www.independentage.org/covid-19.
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About the survey
This survey of 483 people aged 65 and over was carried out online between 15.05.2020 – 18.05.2020 by Opinium, for Independent Age.
Opinium abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.