UK & World News
Hunt: 'Nation's Shame Of Forgotten Elderly'
Britain should be ashamed of how elderly people are being treated in this country, according to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Mr Hunt said there was a collective "national shame" in ignoring the emotional needs of pensioners who after often isolated and lonely.
Speaking at the National Children and Adults Services (NCAS) conference, he insisted entering old age "should not involve waving goodbye to one's dignity".
"According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, there are 800,000 people in England who are chronically lonely," Mr Hunt said.
"Some five million people say television is their main form of company - that's 10% of the population.
"We know there is a broader problem of loneliness that in our busy lives we have utterly failed to confront as a society.
"Each and every lonely person has someone who could visit them and offer companionship. A forgotten million who live amongst us - ignored to our national shame."
Mr Hunt, who is married to a Chinese woman, compared the way older people are treated in the UK to other cultures.
He said he had been "struck by the reverence and respect for older people in Asian culture", where residential care was only considered as a last resort.
"The social contract is stronger because as children see how their own grandparents are looked after, they develop higher expectations of how they too will be treated when they get old," he said.
"If we are to tackle the challenge of an ageing society, we must learn from this - and restore and reinvigorate the social contract between generations.
"And uncomfortable though it is to say it, it will only start with changes inthe way we personally treat our own parents and grandparents."
Mr Hunt also spoke about cases of abuse in care homes, saying there is a need to apply rigorous, unflinching standards towards the regulation of care in both the private and public sector.
He told delegates that 112,000 cases of alleged abuse were referred by English councils in 2012/13, the majority involving over-65s.
"Something is badly wrong in a society where potentially 1,000 such instances are happening every single week," he said.
Mr Hunt said new Chief Inspector of Social Care, Andrea Sutcliffe, will act as a champion of the people who use the services - the nation's whistleblower-in-chief.
Ms Sutcliffe will start giving ratings to care homes from April 2014, and all locations - some 25,000 in total - will be inspected by March 2016 and then receive official ratings.
"Just as we know how good all our local schools are thanks to rigorous, independent inspections by Ofsted, I want us all to know how good our local care is," Mr Hunt said.
Age UK's charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said a "seismic shift" was needed in attitudes towards older people and ageing.
She added: "At Age UK we are extremely concerned that cuts to local authority budgets are exacerbating the problem of loneliness because they are causing the closure of many support services for older people, like lunch clubs, which can be a lifeline for those on their own.
"These cuts are also pushing to breaking point many families who are trying to care for their older relatives in the absence of adequate support. Caring is often a 24/7 role that can have a huge physical and emotional impact on the carer."