On Monday 15th October 2018 the Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced the launch of UK’s first loneliness strategy. This aims to deal with “one of the greatest public health challenges of our time”. Last January, Mrs May appointed Tracey Crouch as Minster for Loneliness, and now the government is ready to set up several initiatives to tackle this crucial issue head on.
Jo Cox, tragically killed in June 2016, was one of the first to emphasise on the importance of addressing loneliness in the UK, and was dedicated to helping the millions of lonely people living in the UK. The Prime Minister is, in fact, pleased to support this project in Jo’s name taking forward her recommendations and putting her legacy into practice.
According to a report, around 200,000 people have not seen or been in touch with a friend or family member in more than a month, with loneliness currently affecting over 9 million people in the country. Loneliness can be detrimental to both mental and physical health and it is sad to learn that only few people talk about the issue, without feeling ashamed or uncomfortable.
While we tend to assume that only older people are affected, loneliness can affect people from all ages and different backgrounds, posing a serious health risk. This is a major reason the Jo Cox Commission called for a UK strategy for loneliness across all ages.
Progress is already being made on addressing the issue in a national scale, but there is still work to do to further raise awareness. The strategy, launched by the government in October, contains 58 recommendations; let’s now take a closer look at what is going to have a direct impact on people – that is ‘social prescribing’.
Instead of prescribing medication, doctors in England will be able to refer patients to social activities such as dancing, cookery classes, walking clubs and arts groups. This practise focuses on the importance of social relationships that are strictly connected to people’s health and wellbeing. By providing social support and strengthening personal relationships, serenity, comfort and resilience can be improved – adding to overall wellbeing.
GPs will be able to prescribe two local activities to each patient, therefore access to community space is necessary. To address this, the government has allocated £1.8m to work on improvements to public infrastructure, using underutilised community space as well as planning new housing developments.
A sense of belonging – where you can support one another and share experiences – is a human need and joining classes and clubs will help people interact and build relationships. The Prime Minister confirmed all GPs will be able to refer lonely people to community activities by 2023.
In addition, the government will partner with the Royal Mail in select cities and have postal workers to check up on residents. This is a great initiative as it presents older people, who may not be able to leave the house, with the opportunity to meet and speak to postal workers on a regular basis. Postal workers will have the chance to recommend people to community groups or seek their families’ support.
As a part of the long-term strategy plan, well-known business and local authorities will offer social activities and benefits to support their employees’ social and mental wellbeing. Already signed up to this plan are Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Transport for London and British Red Cross.
Preventing loneliness can lay the foundations for a social change. Having businesses and high-profile organisations taking part in this strategy will help bring broader attention to this growing social injustice.
Further actions have been set out to allow all age groups to build connections and feel less isolated. Here are the main ones:
- The issue of loneliness will be included into policy decisions and added to ministerial portfolios at the Ministry for Housing, Community and Local Government and the Department for Transport
- Primary and secondary schools will treat the issue of loneliness as a part of education classes, teaching children the value of social relationships
- Pilot projects will be delivered to support volunteering services in up to five areas in England.
“Nobody should feel alone or be left with no one to turn to” said Minister for Loneliness, Tracey Crouch. Feeling lonely is often linked to early deaths and it is considered one of the most pressing public health issues not only in the UK but across the world. For this reason, it is great to see that it is now on the Government’s agenda and we hope to see improvements happenings in the coming years.