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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 December 2005, 00:15 GMT
'Home alone' deaths for thousands
Nursing home
Many elderly people go without help
Thousands of people die miserable deaths alone, uncared for and in poverty, figures suggest.

A study by Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow found around 60 people a week die alone without the support of friends and family.

The figures, from a survey of 182 English councils, also show men were two-and-a-half times more likely to die on their own than women.

It is estimated that 3.5 million people aged over 65 live alone in the UK.

Thousands of older people across the country not only live, but also die, alone, uncared for and often in poverty
Paul Burstow

Local authorities have to carry out funerals for people who die alone, without any friends or family who would otherwise finance and make the arrangements.

The Lib Dem research found that the 182 councils carried out 11,004 such funerals between 2000 and 2004.

Projecting these figures for the 266 councils responsible for arranging these funerals suggested there were around 16,083 such deaths during this period.

Almost three-quarters (72%) of the funerals were for men - compared to 28% for women.

The Lib Dems said that this trend was the same over the five years for which they collected data.

Isolation and loneliness

The report - Dying Alone: Assessing isolation, loneliness and poverty - found women who died alone were likely to be between the ages of 75 and 80 - almost 10 years older than men.

It said that although the figures represented only a "snapshot" of provision across England, they painted "a stark picture of isolation, loneliness and in many cases impoverishment".

The Lib Dems are calling for a more concerted approach to tackling isolation, particularly in the elderly.

Mr Burstow, a member of the Commons Health Committee, said: "These figures are a sobering reminder that thousands of older people across the country not only live, but also die alone, uncared for and often in poverty.

"Being cut off from friends, family and neighbours undermines all quality of life.

"It is an indictment of society that too many people are left to fade away, unable to make ends meet and lonely on the fringe of our communities.

"We all have a responsibility to look out and care for vulnerable neighbours, friends and relatives, not just at this time of year."

Government response

A Department of Health spokesperson said there had been substantial funding increases for social services, and investment in schemes to help vulnerable people live independently in recent years.

Between 1998 and 2003 there had been an increase of 44% in the number of households receiving intensive home care.

In addition, the Commission for Social Care Inspection had been given powers to monitor quality and standards of care provided by all agencies providing personal care for people in their own home.

The spokesperson said: "We are doing a great deal to ensure the elderly receive the care and support they need to live safely in their own homes."


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