06 January 2016

S4M-15198 Age and Social Isolation

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15198, in the name of Margaret McCulloch, on the Equal Opportunities Committee’s report on age and social isolation.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

In her contribution, Johann Lamont said something very important indeed, on which I want to anchor my remarks: we must start with the individual.

In its response to the committee’s report, the Government says that the report

“usefully acknowledges the responsibility of citizens, public services and the Scottish Government in taking any action forward.”

That is pretty much self-evident.

I will say one or two things about the approach that the committee has taken, but before I do, I say that because it is the first parliamentary report on such a subject, we have no point of comparison with predecessor reports. It is clearly an excellent piece of work; it is thorough in its scope and analysis and in its drawing of conclusions. However, for next time, there are one or two things that we might think of doing.

Annabel Goldie: When does Mr Stevenson think the next time will occur?

Stewart Stevenson: As Winston Churchill and others have said, predicting the future is particularly difficult, so I will not try to do it. That is a matter for committees.

I say seriously that it is in many ways a first-class report, but let us look at who gave evidence to the committee. Of the written evidence, slightly less than 10 per cent came from individuals, and every single person who gave oral evidence represented an organisation and had a job title. I recognise absolutely that when the committee went out and engaged communities, it talked to what I might call “real people”—which may sound patronising, although I do not intend it to be. It is a fundamental challenge for us in Parliament and in committees to get beyond the institutions and to talk to the people who are actually involved. I want to talk a little about that.

In the 13 recommendations that the committee made, the word “people” occurs only twice. It occurs properly but it occurs—

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will come back to John Finnie if I may, but I want to develop my point. One recommendation says that the Scottish Government should identify a

“typical profile of people who are at risk”

which I think would be entirely right. The last recommendation talks about technology and people.

The reason why I use people as an anchor is that I am one of the older participants in the debate—I will be 70 later this year—and a number of my friends from a long time ago are now affected by the very issues in the report. It is a great report in that it will equip corporate Scotland, the third sector, the Government and councils to respond even better to the problem. However, I am not sure that it reaches the point of empowering individuals who have no status other than being, for example, the friend of someone whose mental capacity is diminishing. One thing that is absolutely necessary in interacting with a person who is still able to communicate but is suffering from the early stages of dementia, is knowing how to interact and how to give them something from the experience, when one visits them. I have a small circle of friends whom I visit who have some degree of mental incapacity. One of the key things to do, for example, is to talk about things that happened 30 or 40 years ago, because generally such memories endure, while short-term memory is often the part that decays. Perhaps I am privileged, because I come from a medical background through my father, to have that understanding, while others may not. We need to be sure with our responses that we equip people to do that.

I intervened on Annabel Goldie on social isolation versus being alone. I think that people find it more difficult to make friends as they get older. It is easier to keep or to refresh the friends that one has, and one way of doing that is through technology. Some of the old technologies can be quite good. This year I decided not to send Christmas cards and instead sent letters; each letter was personalised. There were quite a few people of my age with whom I have been exchanging Christmas cards for the past 25 years without our necessarily ever meeting. That was a pretty purposeless interaction, to be blunt. I have been amazed to suddenly get responses by writing just a couple of sentences on the back of a circular letter. There are things that we could be doing as individuals and as corporate Scotland to help others to understand the sort of things that can be done.

As people’s mental faculties decline and their memory becomes less effective, we need to focus on their partners, because they are socially isolated in their own homes and often find it difficult to live all the time with the person to whom they have been married, or with whom they have lived, for decades. They, too, need support.

On social interaction, I have previously talked about reducing taxation on bingo, and I make another plea to the Government to do that, because there is medical evidence that bingo is one way of keeping people mentally alert.

In rural Aberdeenshire—and, I believe, in Dumfries and Galloway—there is a particular problem in getting high-speed broadband to individual homes because of the technology that phones in those areas use to connect to exchanges: the use of exchange-only lines means that a big proportion of homes cannot get connected to fibre directly. The social inclusion that results from using Skype, for example, and from being connected electronically would help. That is another little thing that could be done.

The report is excellent and I commend the committee for it, but next time we should perhaps move on to look at what individuals can do, rather than at the corporate response.


Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP