Help is at hand for the older generation
According to many charities, donations have dipped by around 20% during the economic downturn, as people have had to make cutbacks. So, logically, this is precisely the wrong time to start a new charity. But crazy as it may seem, this is exactly what I am going to do as I've decided to launch The Silver Line - a helpline for older people.
I first discussed the idea at a conference about the plight of isolated older people, and as I looked at my audience of experts, I suddenly remembered another meeting 25 years ago, when I was speaking to experts in child protection. I shared that with the audience. "Then," I said, "the problem was shame." The answer was ChildLine, a helpline that children could trust and use however they wanted. "How about a helpline for older people?"
"Yes," said the experts, "do it." So here I am, setting up this new charity.
First and foremost, The Silver Line will befriend people who are lonely. Loneliness, it seems, has become an epidemic, now that so many people live on their own. And loneliness carries its own stigma.
When I wrote about my own feelings of desolation, living on my own for the first time in 70 years, a friend said tartly, "How could you write like that, Esther? Haven't you got too much pride?" It's like admitting you have social bad breath - you're sad, unlikable, like the empty restaurant nobody wants to go to. But it shouldn't be this way.
Apart from offering emotional support, the charity will also signpost people to specialist information and encourage them to ask for help if they are being abused or neglected. So what has this got to do with personal finance you may ask?
Sadly, financial abuse of the elderly is rife, with many older people suffering financial abuse by their nearest and dearest, the very people they should be able to trust. I heard of one old lady whose daughter does her shopping for her every week, and at the same time, helps herself to half of her meagre pension. The old lady depends upon her daughter, both physically and emotionally. What can she do?
Another sad story was of an old man whose entire bank account was cleaned out by a neighbour who had befriended him to offer him care and company.
However, financial abuse is not the only money problem facing silver surfers. Older people are particularly vulnerable in times of financial hardship. For example, many older people deny themselves warmth in the depth of winter because they dare not turn on their heating as they worry about the cost.
But there are plenty of ways they can cut costs and save money, as long as they know how. There is also a bewildering series of grants and benefits available to older people but to find them they must first navigate their way through the labyrinth of forms and instructions.
Fortunately, there are several advice lines and drop-in centres for elderly people to help them out. And this is where The Silver Line will, I hope, be able to help. Its job will be to create an extensive database, so that we can put older people in touch with the local help they need.
Am I crazy to launch a new charity? Perhaps. Let's just hope it will save older people from the financial hardship, abuse and loneliness they might otherwise suffer, and which they certainly don't deserve.
Esther Rantzen is a renowned broadcaster and founder of ChildLine. Email her at email@example.com