Tackling pensioner loneliness and isolation has to start with small grassroots groups – Christine Grahame

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I spoke recently in a debate on isolation and loneliness, and focused on the experience of older people.

At 78, I know it’s tough enough getting older. The impact of inflation on a fixed income, the state pension, even with an occupational pension, has meant, for many, staying in to save the pennies for food and heating. Yes, the bus pass helps with mobility, social contact and general well-being but it cannot make up for pensioner poverty, exacerbated by inflation.

Some 40 per cent entitled to UK Pension Credit do not claim. Money kept by the Treasury. I wonder what that adds up to? I’m in the minority (which includes HRH Charles) who can keep working beyond pension age. Mind you, as a billionaire he doesn’t have to do much for himself.

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As a republican, I won’t be celebrating the outdated, frankly farcical and expensive coronation with pomp and privilege, in all its flummery, especially insulting when others endure austerity. Then there are the after-effects of Covid when many (including myself) were confined indoors with only short spells of exercise.

The Covid years got me and many others into a way of life which prevented you from mixing with folk. Indeed for those older folk living alone then, there was no permitted physical human contact until the introduction of the “bubble”. Do you remember that? No cuddles for this grannie ’til then.

These deprivations must have impacted on our well-being. To that I would add that with age, of course, it’s not so much Four Weddings and a Funeral, more Four Funerals and a Wedding. So, how do we reconnect folk with each other? You know all was not bad during Covid. Those 30-minute neighbourhood walks, on nearby streets I had never walked before, chatting to people sitting in their front gardens, weather permitting.

It also brought into my life Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp, now just part of ordinary life. It is good to chat to grandchildren in Canada but it’s no substitute for that cuddle. Walks round the neighbourhood have gone by the board. It may be the same for you.

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For some elderly people, the phone only rings when it is a cold caller. The front door remains locked all day because no one is visiting. Pyjamas are on by 7pm and without the telly, there would be no other noise in the house but the creaking floorboards or the sounds from the street. This is bad for health, physical and mental.

Christine Grahame MSP (SNP).Christine Grahame MSP (SNP).
Christine Grahame MSP (SNP).

For some, it is a case of just getting through the day, and the next, and the next. What can we in our smaller communities do? I have no smart answers and I know the Scottish Government is trying to tackle social isolation and loneliness by funding projects – some £3.8 million over three years.

What I hope is that the many small projects I know, from men’s sheds to knitting bees, from choirs to befriending groups, get their share because it’s these grassroots endeavours, rooted in their communities, which can be of most help in building back individual self-confidence and a sense of worth. Perhaps for ourselves, reinstating that wee walk round the neighbourhood would be a start.

Christine Grahame is SNP MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale

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