‘Fresh thinking needed’ to tackle ongoing issue of loneliness in society, charities say

Fresh thinking is needed to tackle an ongoing issue of loneliness in society which is being exacerbated by cost-of-living pressures, charities said.

Fourteen organisations – including the British Red Cross, Mind and Age UK – said while there has been progress in recent years in efforts to address the problem, it “isn’t going away” and urged “renewed vision and commitment”.

Their call comes five years on from the world’s first government strategy on loneliness being launched in the UK in October 2018.

The organisations noted challenges currently facing small, community-focused charities “that play a vital role in reducing loneliness” as costs rise and they struggle to stay open.

The Campaign to End Loneliness, in its own analysis of Office for National Statistics data, said around 7% of people in the UK said they are often or always lonely and that the number of people who are chronically lonely has risen by half a million since 2020.

Stuart Andrew is currently minister for loneliness.

The charities – ahead of an expected general election sometime next year – said a future government must reappoint a minister “who is responsible for leading and delivering cross-government action on loneliness and creating and delivering a new strategy to address the issue, with measurable targets and backed up by sufficient funding”.

They noted that while various organisations are working to tackle the problem there must be “more national leadership” on what they described as a “critical public health issue”.

The organisations are calling for a refreshed strategy, with clear objectives and dedicated funding, guidance for schools and employers to tackle loneliness, and reform of social care and support to help disabled people, older people and people with long-term conditions.

British Red Cross head of policy Olivia Field said: “Five years on since the UK government created a Minister for Loneliness and launched their loneliness strategy, we need a renewed vision and commitment.

“There has been notable progress, but looking ahead to the next five years, we need fresh thinking. This issue isn’t going away, numbers have been increasing since the pandemic, and are being exacerbated by cost-of-living pressures.

“Many of the places people rely on to connect, from pubs, to cafes, to community venues are closing. Connections with others are a lifeline, not a ‘nice to have’. Loneliness is linked to an increased risk of a range of health conditions, from Alzheimer’s to stroke.

“There are many organisations working to tackle the issue, but they need support, and we need to see more national leadership on this critical public health issue. “

Robin Hewings, director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, said knowledge around the prevalence of loneliness must be used “to ramp up action across society so that fewer people get stuck in long-term loneliness with its very serious consequences for our mental and physical health”.

The strategy on loneliness was launched in response to the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, established by the Labour MP before her murder in 2016.

Backing the call for renewed efforts, Su Moore, chief executive of the Jo Cox Foundation, said: “One of our key areas of concern at the moment is the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on the small, community-focused charities that play a vital role in reducing loneliness.

“When we surveyed the member organisations in our Connection Coalition earlier this year, 81% were unsure about their sustainability over the next year. A renewed loneliness strategy must address the role that these important voluntary organisations play, and offer them support – without them, the country faces a worsening crisis of disconnection.”

Mr Andrew said: “We are completely committed to doing all we can to help tackle loneliness, which is why we have invested over £80 million on this front over the past five years.

“This includes increasing volunteering opportunities and helping reduce loneliness in many disadvantaged areas across the country.

“But we know there is more to be done – in March we published our latest Tackling Loneliness Strategy that will keep up this momentum.

“We welcome all collaboration from our brilliant third sector partners and will continue to work with charities on this important mission.”

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