John’s Speech on Age and Social Isolation

John spoke yesterday (06/01/16) during the Equal Opportunities Committee debate on its report into Age and Social Isolation. You can read the transcript below

“I would like to thank all the contributors to the report and the staff who were involved in preparing it. Those contributors were very real people—that is what I wanted to say to Stewart Stevenson. No slight is intended, but they were very real people whom I had a coffee with in Easterhouse, and they were very real young people whom I saw give Christian Allard a hammering at pool at the youth centre on Islay. I understand the point that Stewart Stevenson made, which was about the general nature of the people who come to Parliament to give evidence. At the ceilidh—the good news is that I did not dance—we met very real people; we sat and had cups of tea with them and got to understand them.

I want to touch on an issue that a few members have mentioned—the definition of “social isolation”. Talking about the definition might seem like a very dry place to start, but it was actually extremely helpful. It was important that people said what they understood the term to mean, but we wanted some form of evidential basis, and the definition that we got from the academic Professor Mima Cattan was about what is measurable and what is personal. It is not a case of saying that one is more important than t’other; it is simply a case of contrasting those two aspects.

The issue of contrast also applies to the locations that we went to—Easterhouse and Islay. In Easterhouse, we heard from Food Train about the wider role that it undertakes, which is typical of the extra value that we get from the third sector. That was compelling evidence to hear.

We had planned to visit the Jura Care Centre, but we were unable to go because of the weather. That gives members a flavour of community isolation: especially in recent months, Islay and Jura have had significant issues with that. I had the good fortune to visit the centre during the summer recess, and it is an excellent model that is often held up by people who are aware of social care, which is about sustaining people in their homes in the community. As people get older and frailer, they gravitate towards the centre, where there is a respite facility. It is excellent and I commend it.

There was commonality in the issues of the two communities that we visited, relating to housing and transport, for example. I hear what Johann Lamont said about buses; she mentioned people having to take two buses. The challenge of getting suitable transport in urban settings came up, but the contrast there is with the many parts of rural Scotland in which there are no buses. Nothing negative is inferred by that, but there is a challenge in getting about at all in some rural areas, not least because of the dearth of bus services.

The people whom we met were very real people, and I am grateful to all of them for their contributions. In some cases, it was a very soul-searching experience and we dealt with some very sensitive issues. The legacy of gangland culture came up in Easterhouse, and we also heard about the challenge of dealing with school bullying, and all the various relationships that go along with that, in an isolated community.

I will comment on the Scottish Government’s response, in which it spoke about what it sees as the challenges. It mentioned the challenge of “rising expectations”. I know that the Government did not mean that entirely negatively, but if our communities have rising expectations, that is a good thing.

The Scottish Government also said that the challenges include

“pressure on resources and living standards, public health issues, an ageing population”— what a great news story that is, with all the statistics about how much longer we are all going to live— “and the impacts of multiple deprivation”.

I add to that list the impacts of rural deprivation—especially fuel poverty, which is a significant issue.

The Scottish Government’s response said that it “has a clear view of what works in public service design.”

The public do, too. The Government also assured us that its approach to reforming public services “places the needs and aspirations of people at the centre of all that we do.”

That is reassuring.

The response mentioned plans to realign services to meet the new challenges. It also alluded to a number of positive initiatives—not least of which is the recently commissioned research into design for ageing.

Age Scotland was a significant contributor to our inquiry. I am grateful for its briefing, which expresses disappointment about the Government’s response that “a national strategy might lack impact”, not least because there are

“34 specific strategies the Government either has adopted or is developing, with 12 of those in the health field alone.”

The landscape may be cluttered, but social isolation issues are not going to go away.

Another thing in Age Scotland’s briefing that I will talk about, and to which Jenny Marra alluded, is the idea that, although

“the State is not primarily responsible for the quality of people’s personal relationships, it does … have to deal with the consequences where these break down or are absent.”

That is true, but the state is statutorily responsible for provision of education, health and care. We forget that at our peril.

I am concerned about how the profit motive in social care, housing and transport affects social isolation. Housing has been mentioned.

I want also to mention another issue in the Scottish Government’s response, on comments that were made by the then chief medical officer, Dr Harry Burns. It said:

“Dr Burns was clear that the fundamentals of human well-being that underpin health and fulfilment lie in attachment and in lives with a sense of coherence and purpose.”

Clearly, that is what we all want.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in producing the report. There is talk of additional research, which would be helpful. I am sure that Parliament will revisit the topic.”


You can watch the debate here: John’s speech begins at 1:35:00