WRVS report spotlights growing elder isolation

The WRVS, best known for its Meals on Wheels service, has published a report by think-tank Demos warning of growing social isolation among the elderly.

The Home Alone report suggests that trends toward independence and freedom could lead to a massive growth in loneliness among the working population as they move into retirement.

The report is one of the first fruits of a recent attempt by the volunteering body to reinvent itself by making its services more relevant to clients and raising its profile as a campaigning group (Third Sector, March 10).

It now positions itself as a modern national service provider and leading volunteer agency.

The charity, which has 95,000 volunteers delivering services to vulnerable elderly people, is concerned that the local authority trend of replacing daily Meals on Wheels with a frozen-meals service reduces contact with clients and increases isolation.

It can also lead to greater spending on home-help services by local authorities, or even hospitalisation of vulnerable older people, the report warns.

WRVS chief executive Mark Lever said: "If the value of social contact for older and housebound people is not recognised in the form of funding for projects that enable regular contact, the future looks lonely and isolated for more people than ever before."

Some 2.2 million elderly people could suffer social isolation by 2021, as a result of childlessness, the death of and separation from spouses, and difficulty in leaving the house, the report says.

Home Alone also lobbies for social policies that encourage older people to volunteer, join social clubs and acquire new skills.

"We worked with Demos before the rebranding, as part of our effort to make sure that we are in tune with the modern world and that our services are what people actually need," said a WRVS spokeswoman. "Demos is very good at looking laterally at problems and coming up with innovative solutions."

The WRVS is increasing its fundraising activities to offset rolling cuts in state funding. It received £6.5m in 1996, £3m last year, and will get just £1m by 2007.

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