THE good work of voluntary organisations and joined-up local thinking is needed to tackle the biggest issues facing Thatcham’s elderly population, Newbury MP Richard Benyon has said.
Addressing an audience of around 50 people at a event held by Thatcham Vision at Kennet School last Friday, Mr Benyon said that elderly people were vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation, which could have a significant effect on their health.
“Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26 per cent, the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day – that’s a staggering statistic,” Mr Benyon said.
And with the number of people aged over 85 living in West Berkshire increasing from 5,000 to more than 25,000 since 2011 –and set to increase by more than a third by 2020 – Mr Benyon said that tackling isolation and loneliness was a “massively important issue”.
He added that a fear of crime among older people was another concern, but that the perception did not always meet the reality.
The MP praised the work of local organisations in West Berkshire, such as Thatcham Vision, Volunteer Centre West Berkshire and The University of the Third Age, who offered different ways to tackle isolation.
“There’s a lot happening and there’s a lot to be proud about,” Mr Benyon said.
“There’s fantastic work being done by local groups, but sometimes they need to be connected and recognise that if someone is lonely there could be different reasons behind that. It’s all about human contact and technology can help with that.”
Mr Benyon was then interviewed by Kennet School Sixth Form pupil Brandon Hale on topics ranging from independence for the elderly and how local and central government could help with the issues they face.
And following West Berkshire Council’s decision to increase its adult social care precept by three per cent to cover spiraling costs to look after the elderly, Mr Benyon said that there should not be a reliance on statutory organisations.
He said: “It comes down to that innate British value of care for your neighbour. I’m not saying that Britain alone does this.
“In some former Soviet states there’s no civic society to speak of, everything was owned by the state.
“It comes down to ourselves, just being aware of people you know who may need a knock on the door or a kind word.”
He added that organisations ranging from Thatcham Town Council, Thatcham Vision and the Newbury and District Care Commissioning Group could help co-ordinate what was needed in the community.
The mayor of Thatcham, Ellen Crumly, suggested that every household in Thatcham be leafleted with details of local organisations that could help.
The event was filmed by Kennet School pupils and will be condensed into a YouTube video to be screened on Thatcham Vision’s website at a later date.
The talk was signed for the hard of hearing by Diane Donohue.
The chairman of Thatcham Vision, David Conquest, said: “I think that it’s highlighted some issues that we will take back to our senior citizens action group to see if there’s anything we can do; particularly focusing on the issue of social isolation and crime to see if there’s anyway we can address this on a local level by working with partners and other organisations.”
He added that he was pleased with the turnout and thanked Mr Benyon for “subjecting himself to the people of Thatcham” and to Mr Hale for “doing such a great job as our interviewer for the day”.