I know the last six months have been very difficult for everyone in society, but there is no doubt the toll on older people has been particularly hard. Living through an extended period unable to spend time with friends and loved ones has been particularly challenging. We understand the significant impact this can have on older people, who can be more susceptible to the virus.
It’s heart-breaking to hear stories of people missing their grandchildren, not being able to visit a family member in hospital, or hold the hand of beloved parent in a care home. This is an awful virus that is restricting us in our lives more than any of us could ever have imagined, and it is hugely difficult for anyone to see and hear of the distress that relatives and families are facing.
I therefore hugely appreciate the life-saving sacrifices that all older people in Scotland have made to keep themselves and each other safe throughout the pandemic.
Ministers in the Scottish Government are all aware of this, and it is complex trying to keep people safe from the risks of harm. The government tries to find as good a balance as possible between our responsibility to protect lives and the sincere recognition of the benefits of connecting with friends and family.
I know the most recent restrictions will make things feel even harder. But the need to keep people safe remains, along with the vital need to support people through this time. That is why we put in place a range of support measures to make life easier.
We funded Age Scotland’s telephone helpline, which provides support to older people on issues including advice and friendship. We worked with supermarkets to allocate delivery slots, and invested an additional £1.6m in organisations that support older people in the pandemic.
We also understand the importance of staying connected. That’s why we are investing £43m in our Connecting Scotland programme, which provides an internet device, data and technical support. This programme started early in the pandemic to get 9,000 people considered at clinically high risk, many of whom were older, online and able to access services and connect with friends and family.
More people being at home can lead to higher fuel bills, so as well as supporting over 100 organisations helping those struggling with energy costs, we committed an additional £55m over five years to boost energy efficiency schemes and make homes warmer and cheaper to heat.
We also have support in place through our Warmer Homes Scotland scheme. We will continue to work with our stakeholders, such as the Older People’s Strategic Action Forum, to make sure we’re aware of issues that are key to ensuring people are healthy, happy and secure in older age.
Although it doesn’t feel like it just now, this pandemic will pass. One day, hopefully soon, we will be looking back on it, and not living through it.
The last six months has shown what we can achieve when we pull together. So let’s keep at it, keep going, and keep looking out for each other.
Shirley-Anne Somerville is Secretary for Older People