An exponential rise in the number of older Scots eating their Christmas dinner alone is expected this year amid the coronavirus crisis, MSPs have been told.
Age UK in Scotland estimated 100,000 of the country’s 350,000 pensioners ate their festive meal by themselves last year, with the charity claiming this was already the equivalent of one person in every street.
Adam Stachura, the head of policy and communications at the charity, spoke about the “devastating” impact coronavirus has had on the older generation – in which the majority of deaths from the virus have occurred.
An “action plan for winter” is needed, he said, so older people can be supported during this difficult period, he said.
Mr Stachura spoke of the “astronomical level of loneliness and isolation which has been prevalent throughout this year which is only going to increase through the winter months, with shorter days, poorer weather and all the restrictions that are in place”.
He told MSPs the figure for those being alone this Christmas “we imagine will increase exponentially”.
His comments to MSPs on Holyrood’s Covid-19 Committee came after national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch said discussions are taking place across the four nations of the UK on what level of family meetings might be possible over the festive period.
Prof Leitch said: “All of us would like some kind of household mixing to be possible and the prevalence rate is the crucial decider.
“We don’t want people to have to do it surreptitiously or people to have to break the rules in order to have some kind of safe Christmas but we do want a safe Christmas and a safe New Year, and they will not be normal.”
He said experts in the UK will look at the guidance for Christmas that has just been published in New York, with Prof Leitch describing this as being “pretty good” and “quite restrictive”.
But he said: “We’ll judge against our own prevalence what we think is safe.”
Mr Stachura said even before Covid-19 hit, at least 200,000 older Scots “would go at least half a week without hearing or seeing from anyone”.
The number has risen, he added, with the volume of calls to the charity as a result of loneliness and isolation “increasing massively”.
He told the MSPs: “The people we are speaking to haven’t spoken to people in maybe days or weeks.
“I spoke to somebody a couple of months ago actually, I was the first person they had spoken to for a week, and it was quite devastating and heartbreaking to realise.”
Maureen Sier, the director of Interfaith Scotland, which represents Scotland’s faith communities, said many of them had a large number of elderly members who were “not necessarily connected online so their loneliness and isolation is just exacerbated”.
She added: “There are still those who are not able to connect in an online environment so they miss that community connection, it impacts on their mental health.”