Hundreds of thousands of elderly Britons are being ignored by society, British Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt said on Friday, saying that people should look to Japan and China for lessons on how to manage this “national shame.”
Surveys suggest that 800,000 people in England are “chronically lonely,” while 5 million people say television is their main form of company, Hunt said.
“A forgotten million who live amongst us, ignored to our national shame,” he said.
Like many countries, Britain is struggling to deal with the challenge of its aging population.
Concerns about social care have been heightened in recent months by a series of scandals of abuse and neglect in care homes, which house about 400,000 people in England.
A recent report also sparked alarm about the care local authorities were providing to people in their own homes, revealing that three-quarters allowed carers to spend just 15 minutes with each of their patients.
Hunt said the British government was taking action, but added: “There is a broader problem of loneliness that in our busy lives we have utterly failed to confront as a society.”
He said that Britain should look for inspiration to Japan and China, where “it is quite normal for elderly parents to live with their children and their families.”
“My wife is Chinese and I am struck by the reverence and respect for older people in Asian culture,” Hunt said.
“If we are to tackle the challenge of an aging society, we must learn from this, and restore and reinvigorate the social contract between generations.” he added. “And uncomfortable though it is to say it, it will only start with changes in the way we personally treat our own parents and grandparents.”