A wide range of societal changes have given rise to the isolation so many people are now experiencing, and the Government cannot be blamed for most of these. Fair enough.
But there is one major change that has taken place over the past ten years that the Government can and should take full responsibility for, and that is the systematic withdrawal of wardens from what used to be Sheltered Housing.
This intensely short-sighted and counterproductive policy has led to the abandonment and isolation of many thousands of elderly and vulnerable people.
Not only is this a tragedy in terms of personal human suffering, but the knock-on costs to the NHS and the Emergency Services (in other words the taxpayer) have been incalculable.
I have been visiting elderly people in Sheltered Housing for the past ten years, and have seen first-hand the catastrophic deterioration in their well-being and social connectedness when their beloved warden is replaced with impersonal “floating” personnel.
Gone is the age-appropriate social life which the warden once facilitated. Gone is the familiar face that offered reassurance and dispelled anxiety. Gone is the watchful eye that noticed telltale signs of medical problems and intervened before they reached emergency proportions. Gone is the sense of being included and cared about.
Not surprisingly, many residents retreat to the safety of their own flats and lock themselves away – only to begin a vastly accelerated slide into total isolation, with all the accompanying health problems (both physical and mental) that loneliness is known to induce.
The word is out that “Sheltered” Housing no longer offers any advantages, and this has brought about a severe log-jam in the housing market. Houses that should be coming available for young families are now under-occupied by isolated elderly people struggling to get by on their own in houses that are no longer suitable to their needs. The Government’s “solution” to this is to punish them with a bedroom tax to try to force them into downsizing.
Inclusion and security
Wouldn’t it have been more sensible to enhance the sense of inclusion and security that Sheltered Housing used to offer, rather than removing the lynchpin and allowing the whole system to crumble into disarray?
The Government seem to have entirely lost track of the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
By Anne Ludlow, Secretary of registered charity Sheltered Housing UK.