Study shows 600,000 pensioners are prisoners in own homes

More than 600,000 pensioners are virtual prisoners in their own homes, passing their front door less than once a week at most, a study of the everyday lives of older people shows.

By , Social Affairs Editor

8:00AM GMT 08 Mar 2012

Research by Age UK paints a stark picture of the growing isolation of many elderly people at a time when services seen as a lifeline by many, such as local bus routes or Post Offices, are being cut.

It shows how the daily lives of more than one-in-20 pensioners in the UK are marked by acute loneliness.

Up to two million retired people struggle even to get to the local corner shop, supermarket or Post Office, the research suggests.

Even vital services such as a local GPs’ surgery is difficult for 15 per cent of older people – the equivalent of 1.6 million people.

Yet possible solutions favoured by the Government, such as boosting access to the internet are proving slow to show results with only marginal success.

At the same time, soaring fuel costs, have pushed more than a million extra households into fuel poverty in the past two years, most of them involving older people.

The research contained in a wide-ranging study of the lives of older people prepared ahead of a conference hosted in London by Age UK today.

Official statistics show that there are 10.5 million people aged 65 or over in Britain, a figure set to rise to 16 million in the next 25 years.

The Age UK research found that six per cent of older people – the equivalent to 630,000 people – leave their homes once a week at the most.

While many receive daily visits from carers, seven per cent described themselves as “often” or “always” lonely, or 735,000 people.

When asked about access to vital services, 34 per cent said they found it difficult to get to their nearest hospital and a quarter said they would struggle to pay a visit to a bank.

Local Post Offices – which have become an increasing focus in many communities, combining the role of local shop, bank and café – are inaccessible to 18 per cent of those polled.

Meanwhile for those who are shut in, the soaring cost of fuel has forced increasing numbers to choose between heating their homes and buying food.

The study draws points to research that the number of elderly households officially classed as in fuel poverty has risen by 20 per cent to 3.3 million in the past two years.

Fuel poverty is defined as a when a household needs to spend 10 per cent or more of its income to meet fuel costs.

Michelle Mitchell, Age UK’s director general said: “It’s a sad reflection of our society that so many older people find themselves increasingly isolated at home and can’t get to their local GP, post office or even corner shop easily.

“These are vital lifelines providing social contact as well as essential services particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable.

“With a growing older population, we need to make sure that those in later life are brought into the hearts of our communities, not left on the periphery with little social contact across the generations.

“With cuts in bus routes as a result of a reduction in local authority subsidies and the recent post office closures, the situation can only get worse .

“We urge the Government to find new ways to ease the impact of cuts and closures on the people who need them most.”

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