Press release

Loneliness measure to boost care for older people

Greater transparency will help drive better services and improve care for older people.

For the first time local authorities will identify areas where older people suffer most acutely from loneliness to allow them to tackle the growing problem of social isolation and its harmful effects, announced Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

By mapping areas where loneliness is high, better care can be targeted at those who need it most - including older people.

Research clearly shows us that loneliness can affect health - it increases the risk of heart disease, puts people at greater risk of blood clots and dementia, and makes them more likely to exercise less and drink more. Socially isolated and lonely adults are also more likely to undergo early admission into residential or nursing care.

The new measure of social isolation, launched as part of the updated Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework for 2013/14, is part of a package of plans to address the challenges of caring for an ageing population - including £20m announced today to help thousands of older people stay warm and healthy over the winter.

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt said:

“Tackling loneliness, by giving people better care and improved services, is another step towards making the UK one of the best places to live in Europe for older people.

“I want the highest standards of treatment and care in our hospitals, in our care homes and in the community - and that means looking at whatever is needed to drive improvements.

“We need a measure of loneliness to shine a light on this problem and to know what we are dealing with. Once we have this solid evidence, local communities will have new tools to come up with the right, targeted solutions to the problem.”

Further research shows that:

  • more than half of those over the age of 75 live alone - with about one in ten suffers ‘intense’ loneliness;
  • half of older people - more than five million - say that the television is their main company;
  • 17 per cent of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbours less than once a week, and 11% are in contact less than once a month;

As a result of this new measure, local authorities will be able to compare data about how lonely or isolated the people in their area report to be. This information will help them identify how serious the problem is in their communities and what action is needed to tackle it.

Laura Ferguson, Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness said:

“Loneliness is a major health issue. An effective measure of isolation and loneliness is an important step to improving the lives of the hundreds of thousands of older people who are chronically lonely. This national measure can only help those making local health and care decisions to prioritise loneliness as a health issue, and one that they will tackle.”

Chair of The Silver Line, Esther Rantzen CBE said:

“Loneliness creates a loss of confidence, an erosion of self-esteem, so that the front door becomes as solid as a brick wall and as impossible to break through. Some older people told me that they have nobody to speak to at all for weeks on end.

“And yet there are many varied projects and organisations all over the UK, often staffed by volunteers, who could break through this life-threatening isolation, if older people knew whom to contact. That is why we are in the process of creating a special helpline for older people, The Silver Line, which pilots from the end of November for three months and will launch nationally next year, and which will offer advice, information and friendship. We will have an important role in linking callers to the existing services in their local areas and we hope that our high profile will enable us to reach people who are at the moment totally isolated. Our slogan will be, “No question too big, no problem too small, no need to be alone.”

Paul Najsarek, ADASS and Corporate Director for Adult Services at Harrow Council said:

“The development of the Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework for 2013/14 has been a genuinely collaborative process between the Department of Health and local government. We strongly support the emphasis on the greater alignment of the framework with the Public Health and NHS Outcomes Frameworks - shared outcomes will drive the more efficient use of resources, and more seamless, joined-up care pathways.

“The framework’s focus on people’s experiences of care and support is welcome - in particular, a new measure of social isolation among users of care and carers will bring a renewed focus to efforts to support people to maintain the connections to their communities which are so vital to their wellbeing. This year’s framework marks a significant step forward, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Department to build on the framework in future years”.

This announcement comes as Jeremy Hunt revealed that thousands of people across the country will benefit from a share of £20 million of Government money to help them stay safe and well during the cold winter months.

Council projects will receive a total of £20 million from the Warm Homes, Health People fund. This will help them run innovative schemes to help vulnerable people keep warm and safe and prevent people needing to go to hospital during the winter months.

The new measure forms part of the new Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework and updated Public Health Outcomes Framework for 2013/14. The Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework measures the quality of our care and support, and how well that care helps people to stay well and independent, and able to play an active role in their communities. As the problems of loneliness and social isolation can affect everyone, not just users of care services and carers, the Department of Health is working to develop a population based measure of loneliness.

The updated framework includes:

  • Social isolation - a new measure of social isolation for users of care and support and carers, in response to the key White Paper commitment to address loneliness and social isolation (shared with PHOF)
  • Dementia care - a new measure to promote joined up working across adult social care and the NHS, to improve the quality of life and sustain the independence of people with dementia (shared with NHSOF)
  • Integrated care - a new measure on people’s experience of seamless, integrated care (shared with NHSOF)
  • Reablement - a new measure of the effectiveness of reablement care in supporting people to maintain their independence

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