Dear Lady Barran,
During Loneliness Awareness Week, we were pleased to see the Government’s pledge of £5 million towards helping to reduce loneliness in our communities, which will go some way to providing support for some of the most vulnerable people in society. But there’s so much more that needs to be done to tackle the wider issue of digital isolation and exclusion, and to prevent the millions of Digitally Denied people who experience loneliness, being left behind in the analogue wilderness.
More than 850,000 people in the UK receive state-funded social care, with many of them currently being forced to shield to support the country’s effort to control the Coronavirus. At a time when the majority of the nation has been able to rely on the internet for food shopping, banking, entertainment and keeping in touch with loved ones, many of these people will have no access to online services, and be forced to rely on outdated analogue technology for their daily care needs.
Data from the OECD shows the UK is one of the lowest spenders on social care in Western Europe, lagging behind Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden. We continue to rely on analogue systems for the basic elements of patients’ care plans, instead of innovating and investing in technology to support our health workers and social care infrastructure.
Prioritising innovative technology as part of our social care offering would not only support our already stretched services who will have to continue to observe social distancing and isolation measures for the foreseeable future, but also deliver efficiencies, provide bespoke data to support care plans and also help tackle loneliness, delivering cost savings for the health service in the long-term.
That is why local authorities and care providers need to start taking digital and video tech seriously, and this needs to be led by our Government. Our reliance on analogue panic buttons and voice only solutions for elderly and disabled adults is outdated, regressive and costly – and we could and should be doing more.
With the analogue switch off due in 2023, commissioners can’t keep investing in legacy telecare which rely on fixed line connections, require costly maintenance and use closed systems – and will need replacing when the deadline arrives – when video phones deliver two-way video contact, care reminders and promote independent living for users – and are already available for immediate rollout.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the inequalities in society and the very real need to protect the vulnerable people in our communities. By implementing a standard of care through video technology, authorities and providers can ensure lonely individuals can see and speak to real people they know and love, including carers and health workers, whilst delivering enhanced quality of life, significant savings in care provision and allowing peace of mind for friends and family.
As the rules around shielding look to change, many in our society will feel anxious or nervous about getting back into the real world and feel they are making a choice between their mental and physical health. Providing access to video technology would provide an emotional lifeline for many of those who feel they should continue to shield to protect themselves from the virus.
Care technology is already saving lives in our communities, so I am asking the Government to do more to support the rollout of technology across our social care system. In your role as the Minister for Loneliness, I ask you to support us in our call for greater investment in innovative care solutions, because until we see real change, the most vulnerable in our communities will continue to be left behind.