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Call for Telephone 'Happy Hour'

April 15, 2020 11:07 AM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross Jamie Stone has secured cross-party support from 50 MPs for his letter to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport asking for a 'Happy Hour' of free phone calls.

According to Mr Stone's proposals, telephone networks would need to provide free calls for at least one hour a day for their customers over 75 years of age.

Mr Stone developed the idea after his constituent, Ms Judith Perham, got in touch to ask if phone companies could provide free calls to the elderly who do not have broadband and were worried about calling their families because of the cost. Mr Stone has made Judith Perham a leading signatory on the letter and credited her for the idea.

When asked if she would like to be a signatory, Ms Perham told her MP:

"I know I'm probably one of the lucky ones to be able to use some of - not all of the modern technology - but l also know there are an awful lot of us older generation that don't.

"I think that giving some sort of free time on the phone would be of a benefit to them in order to contact family, who might also be experiencing financial hardship at this time and trying to be careful with money. This is especially important when living in a rural area as we do in the far north of Scotland.

"We all need to be looking out for each other at this time and if this achieves a result then l know that with your help we have helped someone somewhere."

Before sending the letter, Mr Stone said

"Calling elderly family and friends to see how they are is seriously important because, sadly, a lot of people are fearful right now. Not in any way to underestimate the absolute danger or coronavirus, but all of us have a duty to cheer each other up. I rang my old auntie on Sunday last, and she told me that was all part and parcel of winning the 1939-45 war. She should know. She's 88."

"With 2 million pensioners living in poverty and so many more at risk due to this crisis, it is our responsibility as a nation to make sure we're not isolating this vulnerable population even further."

"Happy Hour calls will help older people to stay in touch with their loved ones and avoid loneliness during this global crisis. Alleviating just this little bit of financial pressure could make all the difference to someone struggling with loneliness right now."

Notes full text of the letter:

We, the undersigned cross-party group of MPs, are writing to ask that you continue to do all you can to help the most isolated vulnerable people during this health crisis. We ask that you require telephone networks to make calls free for an hour each day, so the elderly can keep in touch with their loved ones.

In the last few weeks, the Government has launched several initiatives to help the elderly, including the extension of free TV licenses for over 75s until August. This was done to ensure that our older population still has access to the outside world during this period of isolation.

According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, over half of over 75s live alone in the UK. The number of people experiencing loneliness has increased by 49% in just 10 years. These are the people we aim to protect by self-isolating, but loneliness can be just as bad for your health.

Many older people only communicate with their loved ones over the phone. According to Age UK, two million pensioners live in poverty in the UK and many more are at risk of falling into this category. Please do not let the coronavirus pandemic make these people choose between speaking to their family and paying their bills.

We welcome BT's policy of capping call costs at £5 for landline only customers, but we would like to see similar efforts pursued by other telecom providers. Would the Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport implement a happy hour of free calls for our elderly population to which providers would be asked to sign up? We must not neglect the people we aim to protect.