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By Debbie le Quesne

Isolation and loneliness: Please lead by example, Mr Hunt

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Invite lonely elderly strangers into your home, urges Jeremy Hunt – so says a recent headline in The Guardian.

The Health Secretary is advocating that s people should keep in closer touch with older relatives to reduce isolation, and take greater responsibility for their own health.

The cynic in mean can’t help feeling that this family values promotion hides the truth: That there is no political will to pay for such services.

Speaking recently at the annual conference of the Local Government Association, Mr Hunt urged people to keep in closer touch with older relatives, friends and neighbours to battle against elderly loneliness.

The tone is good, the moral standards high, but I’m struggling with this message.

He highlighted the case of a man found in Edinburgh recently, three years after he died, and the eight council-funded “lonely funerals” a day in England, half of which involve over-65s.

He said: “Are we really saying these people had no living relatives or friends? Or is it something sadder, namely that the busy, atomised lives we increasingly lead mean that too often we have become so distant from blood relatives that we don’t have any idea even when they are dying?

“In Japan, nearly 30,000 people die alone every year and they have even coined a word for it, kudokushi, which means ‘lonely death’.

“How many lonely deaths do we have in Britain where, according to Age UK, a million older people have not spoken to anyone in the last month?”

This is powerful, heartstrings-tugging material. Hunt also urged people to be more careful about drawing on “finite NHS resources”, itself a worrying aside.

None of this resonates easily with us. Why should I suddenly feel guilty?

There is a yawning chasm between the need I see and Mr Hunt’s care supply chain. Are people more distant these days? Probably, yes. Are we horrible, uncaring people? No.

The shortfall on properly, economically-derived funding levels for care providers is, I believe, a moral responsibility of Government. Its response to need is the barometer of being civilised.

I can’t help feeling that although I agree with so much of Mr Hunt’s speech, I have a finger wagging in front of me, reminding me of the moral priorities I should choose. The irony of my seeming abdication to meet the need is that Mr Hunt too, is right there at the side of me.

Perhaps he could lead by example and ensure social care is funded well enough to service the needs he is trying to meet on the cheap.

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