Millions to pay lonely price for seeking independent lives

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The Independent Online

Millions of young Britons who live alone could one day be counting the cost of leading an independent life, a report published yesterday suggests.

Millions of young Britons who live alone could one day be counting the cost of leading an independent life, a report published yesterday suggests.

Produced by the think-tank Demos, in partnership with the Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS), it concluded that the number of socially isolated elderly people would increase by a third to 2.2 million by 2021.

This was attributed to the increasingly fragmented structure of society, including the growing trend of young professionals living alone, with nearly one in three people living in single-person households. Other influences included the evolution of the traditional family structures in the form of a rise in childlessness, soaring divorce rates, geographical mobility and increasing longevity.

The emergence of a "Friends Generation", who valued their friendships as highly as their family, was also creating the potential for a greater sense of isolation later in life, the report said.

"Living alone may represent freedom and independence for younger people, but starts to be a major risk factor for loneliness and isolation as they get older," said Helen McCarthy, who co-authored the report, Home Alone. "Friends become a scarcer commodity with age, as your contemporaries move away and it becomes harder to make new friends."

One in six of today's elderly said that they felt "often or always lonely", while as many as 32 people died alone every year in their homes, the report said.

The researchers calculated that by 2021 the number of people over 65 who had no weekly contact with friends, family or neighbours would rise by 33 per cent to as many as 2.2 million.

Among the aspects of social change that were likely to create problems for the elderly was the rise in the number of single- person households. With 6.5 million people living alone, the traditional structure of the households was increasingly unstable, the report said.

The formation of a social policy that helped people develop "resilience" to the risk of loneliness, including the promotion of volunteering and club membership, were recommended. "Building the resilience against social isolation with a network of support in local communities is essential," Ms McCarthy said. "People who are already involved are more likely to be able to sustain this network as they grow older and prevent the onset of loneliness."

Mark Lever, chief executive of WRVS, added: "If the value of social contact for older people is not recognised in the form of funding for projects which enable regular contact, the future looks lonely and isolated for more people than ever before."

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