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We must connect the most vulnerable in our communities with a telephone ‘happy hour’

We must connect the most vulnerable in our communities with a telephone ‘happy hour’

"Phone calls have never been as crucial to our elderly population as they are now", writes Jamie Stone MP. | PA Images

3 min read

Loneliness is a crisis which can no longer be kept in the shadows. In these extraordinarily gloomy times, a free call ‘happy hour’ for the over-75s would be a light to see them out of the dark.

The stronger sense of community spirit during the crisis is truly a force for good. People have realised that the only way through this pandemic is together. Everyone is checking in on their neighbours and loved ones more than ever before.

Yet, for the two million pensioners living in poverty and the millions more who are at risk of falling into poverty, the choice between speaking to loved ones and paying their bills is all too real. Mother Teresa once said “the most terrible poverty is loneliness”. We can’t allow our most vulnerable to fall into the twin trauma of loneliness and financial peril.

Many of these over-75s don’t have internet access and rely on their phone to communicate with the outside world. With approximately half of over-75s living alone, these calls that so many of us take for granted can be a lifeline.

Phone calls have never been as crucial to our elderly population as they are now. The cheapest landline contracts work for the fewer calls in normal circumstances, but not for the new lockdown situation.

We must understand and work to help those who cannot afford the burden of even a few extra pounds to keep in touch with their family and friends. We are living in a time when no news could indeed mean the worst news imaginable. No one should be forced into a state of isolation, loneliness and fear for their loved ones. When the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, says “no one left behind”, this should include the most vulnerable among us. 

Though this situation was caused by circumstances beyond the Government’s control, there is a clear solution for the Government to help these people. That is why I have written to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to ask for a telephone ‘Happy Hour’ for the over-75s. One hour a day where all calls are provided free for over-75s. For many this hour might be the highlight of their day and a real chance to feel part of the community spirit which has built over the last month.

The Government has shown they understand the need for information about the evolving situation for our elderly population. They have sent letters and extended the provision of free TV licenses to make sure people are connecting with the outside world. Why is the Government not also pushing to relieve the financial burden of connecting with loved ones?

My 88 year old aunt has always impressed upon me the importance of communication in winning the 1939-45 war. The comparisons between lockdown and wartime are perhaps becoming a little tired now, but it is true that we cannot make it through these situations without the support of our loved ones. We must connect our communities with a telephone ‘happy hour’.

 

Jamie Stone is the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

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