In a shocking insight into the lives of the elderly in Britain, more than one million are at risk of “withering away in their own homes” as a result of malnutrition. This is caused by social isolation and cuts to public services; a claim by a cross-party group of peers and MPs.
The all-party parliamentary group on hunger says social isolation caused by bereavement, illness, immobility or confinement are the main causes of the largely “hidden” problem of elderly hunger in the UK.
The all-party group reports malnutrition, which costs the NHS an estimated £12 bn. a year, is exacerbated by reductions to social care packages, cuts to meals-on-wheels services and bus services, and local shop closures.
These statistics are nothing new for people who support the elderly. In a research paper by Independent Age and the International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK), it is suggested that by 2030 the number of older men living alone is expected to rise by two-thirds.
According to the study, more than 1.2m men over 50 in England say they suffer from isolation. Men are more likely than women to experience loneliness as they get older because they have significantly less contact with children, family and friends than women.
Almost a quarter of men living alone have contact with their children less than once a month, compared with 15% of older women.
These heart-wrenching statistics illustrate the problems in this society. Those of individualism, lack of family values and lack of community concern. Initiatives which have been proposed by the public and voluntary sector have included using technology to help elderly people in the community fill the vacuum of life. There are many dedicated helplines that have been set up to cater for older people in case the pain of having nobody becomes too overwhelming.
The elderly in society have been dishonoured, where technology has become a substitute for human interaction and families have become a distant memory.
Islam has always honoured the elderly and does not ignore their health and wellbeing.
Anas ibn Malik (ra) said that the Prophet ﷺ said:
“If a young man honors an elderly on account of his age, Allah appoints someone to honour him in his old age” (At-Tirmidhi).
In another hadith, the Prophet ﷺ belittles those that do not show mercy to the elderly and considers them afar from Muslims:
“He is not one of us who does not show mercy to our young ones and esteem to our elderly” (At-Tirmidhi and Ahmad).
The Islamic way of life gives the elderly honour, even in starting conversations. Once, Huwayyisah and Muhayyisah, the sons of Mas’ud ibn Ka’b, and Abdur-Rahman ibn Sahl came to the Prophet to discuss a certain matter with him. Abdur-Rahman, who was the youngest of them all, started talking. Thus, the Prophet ﷺ said: “Let the eldest (among you) speak first.” (Bukhari)
The Prophet ﷺ strongly encouraged the young and indeed society at large, to honour the elderly.
These narrations send powerful messages to the Muslim community, in that Islam has placed the elderly – regardless of their creed and background – in a high position, not the lowly position which they currently experience in Western society.