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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Solidarity:300,000 older people are "socially dead"

by Ixchel Delaporte

Solidarity: 300,000 older people are “socially dead”

Translated Tuesday 3 October 2017, by Anne Sanders

To grow old in one’s own home with help for day-to-day living: this was the hope expressed by 84% of those questioned in a survey, as opposed to 3% who envisaged living in residential care with medical supervision. Pascal Grimaud/Signatures

To get old at home, with some help for daily life? A hopeshared by 84% of persons polled,
as opposed to 3% who see themselves living in a retirement home with medical services.

Photo: Pascal Grimaud/Signatures

Yesterday, the Little Brothers of the Poor (Les Petits Frères des Pauvres) presented a study on the social and geographical inequalities suffered by the over-60s. There is long-lasting social isolation, which the authorities are not taking seriously enough.

Becoming invisible happens steadily and quietly. Today in France there are more than 300,000 older people who are “socially dead”. This terrible statistic was quoted yesterday by the Little Brothers of the Poor when they presented a study of the over-60s, undertaken by the CSA (Consumer Science Analytics) Institute. The break-down of social ties, and of relationships with a partner, family, neighbours or communities: a grim catalogue to which is sometimes added physical isolation imprisoning seniors in the house. These results are “worrying”, according to Alain Villez, President of the Little Brothers of the Poor in France, who believes that the question of social isolation, highlighted by the high number of deaths in older people during the heatwave of 2003, should be taken more seriously by the Ministry for Solidarity and Health.

More than one in ten of the over-60s feels lonely “every day or often”. And, according to this report, this feeling and this loneliness particularly affects the over-85s. Those questioned explained that they have no-one to rely upon on a daily basis. This isolation often results in going out less frequently and of doing fewer activities: 78% do none. And yet, 74% would like to do more activities if accessible. This is without taking into account the geographical differences which make life a little more difficult. The Hauts-de-France is apparently the region with the highest percentage of over-85s living isolated from networks of communities (66%).

14 proposals to combat social isolation

Despite this, other statistics are more reassuring as regards the state of family solidarity in France. Few seniors state that they are excluded from the family (22%). In the Hauts-de-France, only 17% of seniors say they are cut off from family. This low percentage is encouraging, according to the sociologist and specialist in old age, Michel Billé: “ Contrary to popular opinion, families are more actively and positively involved than we think. Whether they are reconstituted families or fragmented families or not, they provide emotional and social relationships and prevent isolation..” Another positive point is that the over-60s seem to be happy on the whole, even those who are oldest, since 84% of the over-85s consider themselves to be happy. “On the other hand, “ says the report, “lack of autonomy in daily life and low income underline feelings of hardship.” Of the people supported by the association in 2016, 77% had an income of below 1,000€ a month, and 10% had less than 500€.

“In this context of inequality, the presence of local services is a big issue in maintaining social relationships, especially in rural areas,” claims Alain Villez. “Shops, doctors, so-called secondary transport services act as alert systems for those who plan to stay at home.” To grow old in one’s own home with help for day-to-day living: this was the hope expressed by 84% of those questioned in a survey, as opposed to 3% who envisaged living in residential care with medical supervision. It is therefore logical that the majority (90%) are also in favour of maintaining shops and local services as a means of combating loneliness and isolation. This is almost the same percentage as regards the development of accessible transport solutions and more information on aid and financial benefits.

These two latter responses have sparked debate. For the association, as well as these results, has launched 14 proposals to combat isolation. Among them, fierce opposition to “the commercialisation of social cohesion”. Armelle de Guibert, a delegate of the association, states: “Restoring social cohesion must remain an unpaid exchange between people who have chosen to meet up.” The commercial enterprises which are rushing into this market of old age exclude the most vulnerable and the most isolated by their fees: the complete opposite of the high-quality social ties forged with older people by volunteers. We need to create a shared definition of social isolation in order to “put into place appropriate measures and solutions”.

The double whammy of digital technology

The study undertaken by the CSA Institute points to increased exclusion of older people because of digital technology. 31% of the over 60s have never used the Internet. The percentage increases to 68% for the over-85s. The increasingly paper-free systems for administrative procedures leave many older people by the wayside and contribute to a rise in the failure to claim one’s rights.

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