In the first few weeks of a new year the issue of loneliness can often be at the forefront of our thoughts – whether it relates to our own situation or to someone close to us. I was pleased, therefore, that the Prime Minister has recently appointed a Minister to take the lead on this across Government, following recommendations from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness.
Loneliness can affect anyone at any stage of their life and research shows that more than 9 million people always or often feel lonely. For example: 80% of carers have felt lonely or isolated as a result of looking after a loved one; 43% of 17 – 25 year olds using the services of Action for Children have experienced problems with loneliness; and 33% of people with dementia say they have lost friends following diagnosis.
The new Minister, Tracey Crouch, will lead a cross-government group which will take responsibility for driving action on loneliness and keeping it firmly on the agenda. A dedicated fund will be set up to support work with charitable trusts, foundations, and others to stimulate innovative solutions to loneliness across all ages, backgrounds and communities.
Appropriate measures of loneliness will also be established with the Office for National Statistics, so that these figures can be included in major research studies and inform the Government’s work.
I believe that we all have a responsibility - at an individual, family, and community level - to identify people with care needs such as loneliness, and provide support to improve their health and wellbeing. Locally, I am involved with the UK Men’s Sheds Association as a member of the Bedford branch. Men’s Sheds helps to bring men of all ages together to share skills and resources and to provide a place for them to meet and chat. One of its aims is to combat isolation and I am very supportive of what it is trying to achieve.
Tackling loneliness will require collaborative working across government departments, public services, businesses and the voluntary sector, to identify opportunities to tackle loneliness and build more integrated and resilient communities.