We have made available £15 million of funding for local authorities that are already at protection level 4 in order to strengthen their local response, and to support the needs of people in their communities who do not have support networks and are struggling with the restrictions or guidance—particularly those who are most at risk through health or social inequalities. That could include people who are at higher clinical risk, older people and disabled people who encounter barriers that emerge—for example, in accessing food and other essential items, as Tom Mason suggests.
As before, we can all help by looking out for others. Some people will continue to rely on family, friends and neighbours for help with getting food and other essentials. Anyone who needs additional advice, information, support or help can call the free national assistance helpline on 0800 111 4000, which is available from Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. The helpline continues to provide a freephone connection to local authorities, which can provide additional support including access to food, pharmacy services, social services, emotional support, and third sector services and even volunteers. Advice on how to get help for those who need it and advice for people who want to help others safely in their community is available at ready.scot.
Back in March last year, over-75s were asked to shield for four weeks, which quickly became eight weeks, then 12, then until the summer, then until Christmas, and now well into the spring. Those who are living alone will face isolation and loneliness as face-to-face contact is again reduced. Understandably, many older folk are now near their wits’ end. Age Scotland is warning that another lockdown will be extremely difficult for older people to endure, and that a winter action plan will be needed to ensure that they can access the food, medicines and treatments that are needed in order to get through the latest measures.
Will the minister commit to delivering those provisions in a winter plan for our older people, as they face the challenges that the restrictions will bring in the weeks ahead?
I have seen the Age Scotland report that Tom Mason has referenced, which includes all the challenges to which he referred. Age Scotland is one of our key partners on the national implementation group on social isolation and loneliness, and members will not be surprised to hear that we have been working closely together.
As well as the national helpline, to which I referred in my response to the initial question, we also have a national helpline that is run by Age Scotland and has been funded by the Scottish Government to the tune of almost £1 million.
We are working closely with the national implementation group, as I said. We are also working closely with members of our older people’s strategic action forum, who regularly come to us with intelligence, issues and challenges, and with very good ideas about what is happening on the ground.
We are working across those sectors in a number of areas, including access to food, pharmacy services and volunteers—the whole thing—in order to support older people in lockdown. We know that the restrictions have been absolutely terrible for older people, especially older people who do not have a support network around them. That is why they have the national helpline, and it is why we are working so closely with Age Scotland. I will be keen to update Tom Mason on any other aspects of that, if he wants to get back to me.
We have in place a winter plan, which we announced just before Christmas and is funded to the tune of £100 million. A huge proportion of that is to support older people so that they can remain connected, and to ensure that those connections are sustainable in the future. I look forward to speaking to Tom Mason, perhaps, about some of the details of that.