Loneliness is everywhere and we are all likely to be lonely from time to time, but it gets much worse under certain circumstances, such as when we move house, change schools, seek asylum, leave the armed forces, develop a health condition, leave care or become a carer. Under these conditions, as well as when we become a parent, change jobs, leave work, have a family breakdown or are bereaved, loneliness can become chronic. And it is expensive. One study shows it’s the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. it costs the health services £2.5 billion a year and could cost a lot more.
Now a coalition of 13 charities have come up with a report Jo Cox Loneliness, start a conversation. Combatting loneliness one conversation at a time that urges action. The government responded last week by appointing a Minister for Loneliness to see the report does not get forgotten. The charities came together to honour the murdered MP Jo Cox’s who believed that something must be done about the national scourge of loneliness. They want us as a nation and as individuals to anticipate and manage the loneliness that is coming our way, to avoid it if possible, and for individuals to develop resilience against it. The year-long commission on Loneliness was chaired by the MPs Seema Kennedy and Rachel Reeves to realise Jo’s vision.
At the moment for 3.5 million people over the age of 65, the television is their main companion. Even young parents are saying that half of them have felt lonely and one in five said they felt lonely just the week before they were questioned. Carers are also prone to loneliness with eight out of ten saying they feel lonely or isolated because they are looking after a loved one. Refugees and asylum seekers find loneliness and isolation one of the biggest problems and one in ten men say they are lonely but would never admit it.
So what to do? The report urges strong national leadership, a national measure of loneliness and national action. It wants the government to co-ordinate and galvanise local groups who are already involved so that there will be a national strategy to reduce loneliness across the whole age range. Every year the office of National Statistics should report on the results of a national indicator of loneliness that would illuminate the causes of loneliness. It wants a programme to find out what works best and wants Public Health England to get that message across. The London School of Economics has findings that suggest public services could save £6000 over ten years for every person whose loneliness is reduced. People die from loneliness as much as they die from other major diseases.
The report also wants the government to work with Trusts and Foundations and other funds to find new ways to tackle loneliness and provide money for community action. It wants political and business leaders as well as leaders of services such as the NHS, Fire, Police. Ambulance and employers all to see what they can do to tackle loneliness both in their policies and amongst their own work forces.
And the report wants us all to play our part. “We need to check our relationship balances at lease as often as we check our bank balances and think about whether we have got the connections we need to keep going.” Could we do more to keep relationships or find new ones, it asks. We all need to think about our families, neighbours and the wider community and consider who might be feeling lonely. It might be that all we need to do is let them know we are happy to chat. We need, it says, to create connection-friendly communities, making sure that everyone feels welcome into our group.
More details at https://www.jocoxloneliness.org https://www.jocoxloneliness.org/pdf/a_call_to_action.pdf