Viewpoint | 21 Apr 2020

Helping vulnerable and isolated people has never been more important

The coronavirus health crisis has affected us all, but particularly those who are vulnerable, lonely and isolated. Here Helen Lamprell, General Counsel and External Affairs Director, explains what Vodafone UK has been doing to support those who need our help the most.

The coronavirus outbreak has changed so much about the way we live. Hundreds of thousands of people are mobilised on the front line against the virus. Millions more are staying at home to minimise contact with other people and help prevent the spread of infection. At a time like this, it’s natural to want to be with other people; but one of the most difficult aspects of beating this disease is that we need to stay physically isolated.

For me, this puts a renewed focus on the topic of loneliness. Last year, we published a report on the impact of loneliness on society in the UK – the mental, physical and economic costs. It looked at the critical role that technology could play in creating, and maintaining, connections that alleviate loneliness and improve quality of life.

Today, many of us are getting a very personal experience of isolation; but we are also surrounded by wonderful, inspiring examples of society pulling together to overcome this challenge.

Making a difference with our partners

We’ve been working with some of our fantastic charity partners to combat isolation.

Digital connectivity, and sensitively-designed tools and services, can allow the most vulnerable people to live independent lives. Our Connected Living partnership with Mencap gives people with a learning disability, and their carers, access to technology through Internet of Things-enabled devices and personalised digital services. This Internet of Things capability allows different devices in the home to be connected, giving people with a learning disability greater accessibility and independence in their everyday lives.

There are currently around 100 people with a learning disability using the Connected Living solution in Mencap supported assisted living homes across the UK. During the lockdown, this is enabling them to stay in constant contact with friends and relatives – despite not being able to leave home. The specialist tablets have also been given to residents who are self-isolating so they can use the video call function to reduce physical contact when receiving support from their carer.

No Isolation KOMP video unit with mobile Wi-Fi attached

Credits: No Isolation

Credits: No Isolation
No Isolation’s KOMP units make it easy for elderly people to stay in contact with their families and friends

And with No Isolation, we’re helping the elderly and vulnerable feel more connected through the use of KOMP video units. These simple-to-use devices are tailor-made for people who have little or no experience using smartphones, computers or tablets. They have high-contrast screens, clear audio and the ability to share photos, messages and video calls with loved ones and carers. Family members can keep in touch via an app on their smartphones. The feedback from people using the units has been amazing.

We’re also supporting key organisations such as the British Red Cross and Age UK in their vital work with the vulnerable and elderly during this crisis. We’ve provided connectivity and devices to keep front line staff connected; and we’ve made significant financial donations to enable them to build more capacity into their advice and support phones lines – a critical service during this time.  We are encouraging viewers of our new TV ad to donate £5 to the British Red Cross by texting CONNECT to 70141.

Of course, isolation can be an issue at any age. We’ve also provided connectivity to organisations like Centrepoint and Teenage Cancer Trust to help younger people keep connected.

Supporting the NHS

As a tech comms company, Vodafone is in a privileged position to be able to help. Across the UK, our teams have been working flat out to bring NHS hospitals, front line staff and emergency services the connectivity they need to do their amazing work. Read more about the many ways we’ve been supporting the NHS here.

Help in a crisis

At the best of times, digital connections are a lifeline for many people. In the pressurised climate of the lockdown, these links can be a life saver; calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline have risen 25% during this period.

I’m really proud that Vodafone Foundation partnered with crisis support charity Hestia to develop the Bright Sky app, which provides support and information to anyone who may be in an abusive relationship. It is telling that downloads of the app have risen 47% during the lockdown period. We’re also working with SafeLives to support victims of domestic abuse who may be isolated and at risk during the pandemic.

Looking ahead

We are living through challenging and extraordinary times, but we are also witnessing many extraordinary acts of generosity, as people reach out to those who need help the most. And it is wonderful that we at Vodafone can offer technologies that bring people together and help them feel included.

But I also hope, when this crisis is over and life returns to normal, that we will cherish physical, face-to-face interactions even more and build on the wonderful community spirit many have demonstrated, whether clapping for key workers, delivering food to people who need it most, or volunteering for the NHS.

Loneliness will still exist after the lockdown, but we will be more determined than ever to help the most vulnerable in our society feel connected, safe and loved in whatever way we can.