Help is at hand for the older generation

Back in April, when I wrote my column about The Silver Line - the helpline for older people which I am in the process of setting up - I wasn't prepared for the moving response I would receive from Moneywise readers.

The stories many of you told me are heartbreaking.

Loneliness seems to have become an epidemic, especially among the old.

One of you wrote: "The Silver Line is a great idea. My mum has been so lonely since my dad died. For several years her life was being his carer and he would not allow anyone else in the house for quite some time before he died, so she did not know what having a life to live was. We, her children, all live miles away so the only people she ever talks to are her carers."

Sometimes the media and politicians blame "Broken Britain", implying that families are uncaring, or self-centred, leaving their own elderly relatives isolated and alone.

However, from your letters I get a very different picture with descriptions of loving devotion. But, still, the loneliness prevails.

As another reader wrote: "What a wonderful thing this [The Silver Line] would be and very, very needed. I have a 94-year old aunty who is still in her own home and does not want to move out. I help her with everything, and I give her all the spare time I have, but she is still lonely."


So let me bring you the latest news. The Silver Line is now officially a registered charity, with eight trustees from different backgrounds, including financial, health, housing, technology and care of the elderly.

Their skills are invaluable, but even more crucially they are completely committed to our aim, which is linking older people to the help they need.

We also have plenty of support. Organisations such as the Townswomen's Guild has promised it will become telephone 'befrienders' for us. BT has pledged to offer us technical help. We have also received many donations, including a pledge of £50,000 from Paul Burstow, the minister of state for Care Services.

As I roam the country, seeking out experts and projects I can learn from, I find wonderful work going on.

One obstacle is, of course, the stigma that prevents so many people asking for help. One lady bravely summoned up her courage to describe how she feels: "I do have family but they live at a distance. I recently lost my dog, after 13 years of love, and I am feeling really lonely. I rarely go out in the evenings. Where do you go at 67 on your own? I know lots of people but only have a handful of friends locally."

Once we are in full operation, we will be able to not only befriend this reader, but she in turn might become a truly valuable befriender for others. That is one of our aims, to turn the lonely into befrienders.

Another is to involve younger people also as befrienders - perhaps the winners of the Diana Award, many of whom I have met, and who are united by a desire to help others.

There are many questions to resolve before our national launch early next year but the good news is that the media is already interested and supportive - and, much more importantly, we're getting a lot of support from the public.

And with people such as the readers of Moneywise on our side, how can The Silver Line fail?

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I am a semi retired freelance newspaper editor and run an organisation called Who Can You Trust, alerting the elderly to safeguards they should take to keep rogue tradesmen out of their homes.
But I wonder whether Esther realises that it is the loneliness that often leads to elderly and vulnerable residents being conned and duped by unscrupulous tradesmen.
Many people need companionship or friendship or even just someone to have a chat to. As elderly people often don't see anyone from one day to the next, that doorstep caller appears to be the perfect opportunity for a cup of tea and a chat.
That's how the crooks get their claws into a person, being friendly, being nice, being comforting. Before they know it, that cup of tea and a chat has ended with them either being robbed or tricked into signing for something they didn't want.
Sadly we will never know how many people are caught like this because the victims invariably don't go to the police because they are too embarrassed at being conned.
So if we could solve the day to day loneliness then elderly people might not be so quick to invite a stranger into their homes.