My answer to that question feeds nicely into my answers to Tom Mason’s questions.
We realise that this winter will be particularly difficult for older people. As we know, lockdown restrictions are necessary, but they are also very hard. As I outlined in my previous answers, we have put in place a range of support to help people to manage those aspects of the situation.
As I also said, I will continue to work alongside our older people’s strategic action forum, which is absolutely determined to come up with ideas that will best meet older people’s needs, and is working closely with people who are affected. I am pleased to say that funding of more than £1.3 million has been provided to allow the forum to react, reach out and support its networks.
We will continue to update and publish guidance on the support that is available to help people to overcome challenges in accessing and affording food and other essentials. I strongly encourage individuals who cannot get help from others to call the national helpline that I mentioned earlier, which is a key point of contact that I hope all members will share with their local networks.
T his dreadful virus has made it necessary for elderly people to access the internet for essentials and—which is perhaps more important—for human contact. I commend the work of Outside the Box. It provides elderly people in my constituency with tablets and 24 gigabyte pay-as-you-go data SIM cards, which gives them access to the internet, together with individualised support through the digital buddies project, which I believe the minister will visit next week.
Does the minister agree that that project should be replicated across Scotland? Now that I have heard the chink of money—by which I mean the £1.3 million that the minister mentioned—I ask her to say whether any would be available to roll out the project elsewhere in Scotland.
I am delighted to confirm that I am meeting representatives of Outside the Box and the digital buddies project on 19 January, which I look forward to.
Christine Grahame’s question touched on the work that we do through the connecting Scotland programme. The digital buddies in her constituency are not the only ones to do such work—a lot is being done elsewhere. For example, Anne and Christine from Outside the Box have ensured that their group of older people have embraced getting online, which can sometimes be a bit scary. The digital buddies project has allowed practical support to be delivered despite the restrictions on meeting people.
If you do not mind, Presiding Officer, I would like to read a couple of quotations from people who have taken part in the project. People have said:
“It’s been amazing, I haven’t been able to see my grandsons much for the last 9 months, now we video call every week, I just love it.”
“I hadn’t been able to go to the community council meetings since lockdown started, it was great to be able to take part again.”
“My sister lives in America, with help from my digital buddy we had a video call … It was the first time I had seen her in 10 years. It was brilliant and very emotional.”
I do not think that any of us could say that those comments are not evidence of transformational change. My thanks go to Outside the Box, which I look forward to visiting next week.
As Christine Grahame knows, members of the older people’s strategic action forum will certainly keep me on my toes, too. I look forward to continuing our work in the area.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Scottish Government has invested £350 million to help communities through the current public health crisis, which has allowed charities including the Food Train to help older people to access food. How many older people have been supported by the Food Train?
The Food Train is a smashing organisation. In the past, the Scottish Government has worked with it to tackle malnutrition in older people and to ensure that they are well nourished. Since the onset of the pandemic, it has been provided with £314,000 to support older people through provision of meals and shopping services. It runs a number of programmes that have supported, on average, 3,500 older people a month, which will be the number that Shona Robison is looking for. That is a great testament to the work that it does.