The last few months have seen landmark change in Britain’s approach to loneliness. The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness report has been published and following this, the first ever Minister for Loneliness has been appointed.
For over 35 years Archway’s mission has been to serve those hurt by loneliness in Oxfordshire. But in the last few years loneliness has become identified as a national issue in vital need of attention.
“As our society changes there are new risks to our relationships and more that could separate us… less time to meet to get together and get to know each other, more opportunities to judge quickly” reads the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness report. Many of us will have taken part in the ‘Great Get Togethers‘ that sprang up over the summer as part of the Jo Cox campaign (indeed we at Archway took part). And may have seen the campaign’s “happy to chat” slogan appearing on social media and on badges worn by campaigners in the street, encouraging individuals to connect with one another. But the joy and vitality of the campaign has of course a very sad beginning as well as a serious and studied intent. After the murder of MP Jo Cox, in 2016, MPs Seema Kennedy and Rachel Reeves were appointed to co-chair the cross party Commission on Loneliness, that Jo Cox had championed; combating loneliness ‘one conversation at a time’.
After the Commission’s year long study, the resultant Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness report was published. There seems to be two sides to the issue presented in the report – the first being the identification of the gaps in statistics and so a lack of understanding loneliness in Britain. The second side seems to be a lack of provision for those experiencing loneliness. As the report reads, there are “pockets of great practice” but more needs to be done. It considers how a variety of surveys suggest that a large proportion of the population identify themselves as lonely. For example one survey reports that “1 in 10 men say that they are lonely but would not admit it to anyone.” It’s not clear whether the national problem of loneliness appears so severe due to a gradual lift in stigma surrounding loneliness making people feel more able to talk about how they feel, or whether the problem is worsening.
There has been much attention given to recording the prevalence of loneliness among the older generation on a national level (The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing is identified), but other sections of the population such as young people have not received as much focus despite evidence of feelings of isolation e.g. the report identifies that “43% of 17-25 year olds using Action for Children’s services experienced problems with loneliness.” Jo Cox was in fact inspired to campaign about loneliness due to her own feelings of isolation as a student. This perhaps reflects an impetus to break down the stigma surrounding talking about loneliness across all groups and sections of the population, and in doing so potentially reaching out to the invisible sections of the population who might be experiencing loneliness.
To begin to address the cause and effects of loneliness, the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission report identifies the need to further understand the nuances of the problem. The report’s recommendations are to improve research and data collection, for example creating a national indicator for loneliness that can be used across organisations to measure loneliness. Another suggestion is Annual Reporting on loneliness by the Office for National Statistics.
In order to begin addressing the gaps in provision, the report suggests working on identifying existing examples of best practice among charities, businesses and the public sector (such as the NHS), which then can be shared collaboratively across the country and built upon. It identifies some inspiring case studies where combating loneliness is working well. For example ‘The Great Wirral Door Knock’. Here Age UK worked with the Fire and Rescue service, the Police and Travel services to spend 3 days knocking on doors of people identified as being at risk of loneliness, meeting people at their doorsteps in order to signpost them to relevant services.
The Commission on Loneliness report considers that there needs to be a clear public health strategy that includes as an example, a message relating to loneliness; something equivalent to encouraging us to eat our “five a day” of vegetables, which will help us to maintain our social connections on an individual basis. Even with holes in data, the report makes the case that, addressing and investing in the issue of loneliness not only promises to improve the well-being of individuals and benefit social cohesion at large, but has the potential to save the government money in the long term as loneliness is reported to have a huge impact on our health. According to the statistics presented in the report “3 out of 4 GPs say they see between one and 5 people a day who have come in mainly because they are lonely.” It’s considered that “£1.00 invested in tackling loneliness saves society £1.26.”
One of the first triumphs of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness report is the recent appointment of The New Minister for Loneliness Tracey Crouch on the 17th of January 2018. There is so much to be done but it is encouraging to see serious attention being given to such an important issue on a national level. At Archway we will be watching to see how the story unfolds as we serve those experiencing loneliness in Oxfordshire. We will leave you with Jo Cox’s message:
“Our vision is of a future in which these bonds of common humanity are valued and strengthened, not just in adversity but in the everyday. Where it doesn’t take a crisis to see communities coming together.”