5. To ask the First Minister what assistance the Scottish Government is providing to public services and the third sector to address the issue of loneliness among older people over the festive period. (S5F-03792)
We know that loneliness can be felt at any time and at any stage of life, but, over the Christmas period, it can be particularly hard for older people.
The needs of older people are one of the priorities of our national strategy on social isolation and loneliness, which is supported with up to £1 million in funding. This year, we have provided £140,000 to Age Scotland’s helpline, which is a vital link for some older people. We have also committed £80,000 to the Befriending Networks.
However, we can all play a part. Christmas is a time for remembering that a simple act of kindness towards an older person, who may be lonely, could go a long way. Perhaps we should all reflect on that over the next couple of weeks.
I associate myself with some of the First Minister’s words. She will be aware of the research that found that, this year, over 100,000 people will sit down alone to Christmas dinner—a rise of 40,000 in just two years. One in four pensioners who live alone identify themselves as lonely, and the impact of that is well-documented and contributes to declining mental and physical health among our elderly population. Given that there is still a huge amount of stigma surrounding this subject, does the First Minister share the view of Age Scotland that tackling loneliness as a public health crisis should be a priority? Will she also join me in sharing the message that we all have a role to play in reaching out to those in our communities over the festive period, and that sometimes small gestures make all the difference to someone living on their own?
I very much agree that we should see this as a public health issue, and, as I said in my initial answer, we should all reflect on the role that each of us can play with small acts of kindness and caring for others, particularly older people, in our own families and communities.
A lot of good work is being done to raise awareness of this issue, including, for example,
The Scotsman campaign encouraging readers to reach out and a new app that has been piloted to help loneliness in the Western Isles and Argyll and Bute.
We are also the first country so far in the United Kingdom to have a national strategy on social isolation and loneliness, which contains a lot of good suggestions about how we can take this work forward collectively.
Whether it is the Government or Parliament as a whole, working with the third sector and communities across the country, this is definitely an issue that we have to do more on, and there is an opportunity for us to send that message over the Christmas period.