Loneliness epidemic sees 3,000 over-65s 'often or always lonely' in South Tyneside
Almost 3,000 older people in South Tyneside are ‘often and always lonely’, according to a report into loneliness and isolation in South Tyneside.
Experts predicted that up to 2,980 people aged over-65 in the borough were often or always lonely using data from 2017, while the Office for National Statistics figures estimated that up to 21,000 adults across South Tyneside face loneliness.
Council chiefs are now considering plans to tackle what has been branded a national epidemic.
Councillors got an update on the issue at South Tyneside Council’s People Select Committee on September 3, which heard a report on issues around vulnerable people in the borough.
Experts said the issue can be linked to life transitions – from relationship breakdown and bereavement to lack of independence and frailty.
However, it can be linked to other factors such as fear of crime, the impact of universal credit, caring responsibilities or a medical diagnosis.
This can be compounded with deprivation, low income, unemployment, drug or alcohol use and poor mental health – with young people also affected.
Although safeguarding, employment schemes and partnership work are in place to provide support, councillors agreed more could be done.
Senior public health advanced practitioner, Steven Carter, outlined “gaps and challenges” in services to councillors at South Shields Town Hall.
This includes exploring the pros and cons of social media, forging links between generations, boosting resources and supporting the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
He told the meeting: “Loneliness is a significant issue and it’s important that we think about the different types of loneliness and how we target, support and facilitate our resources effectively.
“It’s the chronic and seasonal loneliness which becomes more prevalent and is much more easy for us to predict and to focus our attention on.
“Chronic loneliness relates to someone who has this feeling for two years or more and that’s somewhere we really need to target our attention.”
Green Party councillor, David Francis, said that adopting a formal strategy to tackle loneliness and social isolation would be a “positive step forward.”
He added it was important to involve communities in the conversation around transport.
Labour’s Coun Jim Foreman said any future loneliness strategy should aim to reverse “stigmas” around social services.
And he added social media could also be used as a means of bringing people together.
“Social media is not going to go away and every service I hear in this chamber denigrates it,” he said.
“Instead of denigrating it we should be embracing it.
“We should be using it to best of its advantages.
“Rather than seeing it as a problem, use the problem because that’s the contact to the public.”
Public health officer Steven Carter agreed social media was a helpful way for the council to spread messages but said it was important not to become “over reliant” on it.
He added that while some people need packages of support, promoting independence was equally important.
A representative from Age Concern South Tyneside said they were developing a project to reach out to socially isolated older people in the borough.
The ‘tiny links’ scheme includes businesses in the community – such as hairdressers, pubs and shops – acting as the “eyes and ears on the ground” to help connect people with charity volunteers.
Committee chairman, Coun John McCabe (LAB), added local faith organisations and council community area forums had a real impact in tackling loneliness.
Any stand alone strategy to tackle loneliness and social isolation would need to be signed off by council bosses.
Updates on work are set to return to the committee in future.