As the light dawns on a new year, so the great general election battle commences. Party leaders are out on the road, sparring over health, education and the deficit to lure undecided votes across the four corners of the UK.
The corner most in the spotlight this season will no doubt be Scotland – a battleground where the election is already being fought. While English voters debate the fairness of Scottish MPs dictating their future,many Scots call for independence and freedom from Westminster – not least, in decisions governing how they are cared for.
Unsurprisingly, the NHS has already been held up as a ‘political weapon’ – each party blaming others for falling standards of care and hazy interventionist policies. The reality is that no one politician has a fix-all for the many problems faced by this great British institution – growing demand, an ageing population and tightening purse strings.
In our latest Silver Census, we set out to understand a little more about the health and welfare of older people living in different parts of Britain. We were interested to know how attitudes to lifestyle, food and exercise, socialising and social care differ by region – and where, potentially, some of the biggest problems may lie.
Contrary to urban myths of deep-fried Mars bars, we found that Scotland’s pensioners lead the healthiest lifestyles in the UK. A considerable sized group, 79%, claim that they eat healthily to stay ‘young at heart’ and one in three take regular exercise.
This approach to health and wellbeing seems to pay off. Glaswegians rank as the most sociable pensioners in Britain – far ahead of London, where less than two thirds eat healthily, and a similar number report regular feelings of loneliness.
Cardiff was another city to report above-average levels of physical and mental health amongst its older population. Perhaps, in the face of criticism of its own health service, people in Wales are taking matters into their own hands – spending far more time with loved ones, and maintaining a positive attitude to change, in order to stay well and young at heart.
Sadly, our Silver Census once again moved us to conclude that the same is not true of much of Britain. Nationwide, almost one in five of all pensioners spend less than one hour a week socialising outside of their homes – with many rarely enjoying the company of family and friends.
While the battle rages over the future of our care services, and decision-makers in Westminster fight their corner for change, we should focus on our own backyards. Policies may change and leaders come and go, yet the figures speak starkly for themselves: today more than ever, Britain’s elderly people are all too often unwell and alone. And while many work hard to keep positive, many more need help in their community to achieve this.
Finding a solution to that should surely be the ultimate goal that unites every voter and politician in Britain; it is a responsibility we all share.
Read Patrick’s post on the Huffington Post website.