The issue of loneliness among older people is a pressing public health concern. Research demonstrates a strong link between loneliness and premature death; with loneliness having a comparable impact on health to alcoholism or obesity.
With an increasing ageing population in the UK, there a growing number of older people who feel isolated and alone. Across the country - including here in Newport - there are thousands of old age pensioners who spend days without leaving their home, and go through long spells without having a conversation with another person. For many, television can be the only source of engagement with the outside world. We know that isolation can have a detrimental effect on mental health and wellbeing, and for many retired older people this loneliness compounds a feeling of low self-esteem without the sense of routine and regular social contact of working life.
We all have a duty to reach out to vulnerable older people in our community - whether they are a relative or a neighbour - and let them know that they are valued. Public, private and third sector organisations - including housing associations and community groups - can also play an important part in this process. I also strongly believe that government has a duty to play in tackling the national crisis of loneliness, and the Welsh Government's Strategy for Older People 2013-2023 offers a positive framework to build on. Tackling isolation must continue to be a priority for the Welsh Government, and we should be doing all we can to promote a society of happy, healthy and fulfilling ageing.