Greece lies bloodied.

Its people are rioting in the streets. An ancient democracy is under threat. A government in crisis has agreed more austerity in exchange for another bailout, this time 130 billion euros. The population is traumatised.

To save the country from imminent bankruptcy thousands more public sector jobs are to go. The minimum wage is being slashed by 20%. Employment laws are to be "liberalised". Everyone knows what that means: jobs will be less secure, hours will be longer and salaries smaller.

GDP is falling. Businesses are closing. Many are destitute. More fear becoming so. The litany of catastrophe seems to be never-ending. Who would want to live in Greece?, I thought. Then I read about another of the consequences of this economic tsunami and wondered whether some in Britain might not prefer to be there.

In Greece the elderly are once more becoming the heart of the home. Isn't that the dream of so many of their counterparts here?

As Greek families lose their jobs and their houses, many are returning home to their parents. It makes sound economic sense. Elderly parents have spare bedrooms. They also have pensions which are now stretching to support two or even three generations in some cases.

Some of the unemployed middle-aged have even retrieved their mothers or fathers from residential or nursing care. The saving on nursing home fees provides an income for the extended family. Yes, it's cupboard love but I bet the old people aren't complaining.

How different is it here? In comparatively affluent Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has just co-written an essay with Scandinavian heads of state on the economic "burden" of ageing populations.

Its general thesis is that pensioners are outliving their affordability. Their numbers are growing and their pensions must be maintained by a relatively small number of economically active young people. The solution, according to No 10 aide David Halpern, is to nudge the elderly back into work to provide them with more money and social contact. He also encouraged them to downsize to free up housing stock for younger families. He said there were more television sets than people in their houses.

Far from becoming the centre of family life, as is happening in Greece's turmoil, the elderly here are made to feel uncomfortable in their own homes. Instead of being surrounded by family, they're told to seek company by going out to work.

Yet the older people get the more they want family contact. A friend who is in her mid-70s became incensed when she read Mr Halpern's comments. Her family home sits amidst a forest of For Sale signs that aren't shifting. As for finding a job, she says it's impossible. There aren't any for someone like her, and even if there were she wouldn't want to deprive some unemployed young man or woman of it.

Seventy didn't come alone. She is far from fit. Also, she worked for 45 years, paid into a pension pot and she's tired. She has been a model citizen who hoped to have a comfortable retirement by supplementing her pension with the interest from her savings. At the moment, the savings are yielding a miserable 1%.

Like so many thousands of other pensioners in our society she sits at home in splendid isolation with the clock and daytime television for company. Her grown-up children ring when they can and visit from time to time. And yes, she admits to being lonely.

I thought our attitude to the elderly was cultural. I thought we didn't live hugger-mugger with them and opted for residential over family care because of our chilly emotional ways. Then I read about Greece and realised that the isolation of the old is as much a matter of economics as of sentiment. Mobility, prosperity and the selfishness that can accompany it is what separates the elderly from their families.

We have avoided the pit of debt into which Greece has fallen. But here too many of our elderly are dying sooner than they need, worn away by the misery of isolation. The problem is so widespread that five charities have come together to launch the Campaign to End Loneliness.

In the UK more than half of people over the age of 75 live alone and between a half and three- quarters of them say they are lonely all or most of the time. One fifth see their family, neighbours or friends less than once a week. For one in 10, more than a month can pass without social contact.

The effect isn't just emotional. The body suffers too. Loneliness is a greater health hazard than smoking. Lack of social interaction is now linked to damage to the immune and cardio-vascular systems as well as to Alzheimer's.

You can see why our pensioners, sitting home alone with Cash in the Attic for company, might envy their Greek counterparts. Here they often feel a burden to their family. If they are living with their children it's probably in a grace and favour granny flat or spare back bedroom.

In Greece, meanwhile, they have become the provider once again, thanks to their secure pension.

Of course, not every Greek pensioner has been enveloped by family. Some have no children. I read about one man who is approaching 80. He is widowed and was finding it hard to make ends meet on his own. "I swallowed my pride a few weeks ago," he said, "and started going to a church soup kitchen for a midday meal."

He began to spend his afternoons in a local café with other pensioners. The café is warm and together they pass the time playing backgammon and sharing newspapers.

It sounds companionable. Shared adversity can be. People wake in the morning with a sense of purpose. They face common challenges and so pull together. There's little or no competitive one-upmanship.

That's not to romanticise the situation. In a country where unemployment is above 20% and benefits last only 12 months there is also anger, fear, suffering and despair.

We know, however, that economies go in cycles. It may take years but boom often follows bust so Greece will rise again. When it does, let's hope the one good that has come out of this crisis remains. Let's hope the elderly retain their new, respected role as worthwhile, useful, integral members of the family.

That would surely be the best of both worlds.