Zoë Abrams is Executive Director of Communications at British Red Cross and Co-chair of the Loneliness Action Group
At the Red Cross, we believe that connected communities are most resilient and able to withstand crisis. In these times of political uncertainty, it is positive to see the new civil society minister prioritising building more resilient communities.
With an astonishing one in five people in the UK saying they feel often or always lonely, this is a huge issue. The negative impacts are not only felt by individuals who are lacking meaningful connections, but it also influences the wider health and wellbeing of communities.
Through our leadership of the Loneliness Action Group – a network of over 50 civil society organisations and businesses – we’ve worked in partnership with the UK government and held them to account for the commitments they’ve made to tackle this modern epidemic.
It’s in that spirit that we have today published a report on progress made against the government’s loneliness strategy.
Over the past year, great strides have been made in the collective commitment to tackle loneliness, but now is the time for all government departments to ramp up their efforts to end it for good. As decisions about prioritisation are made in departments across Whitehall, it is critical that they are based in learning from people’s first-hand experiences of loneliness.
No one should feel lonely because they lack a decent bus service or because they use a wheelchair and are unable to get in and out of their home. Too often our policies fail to consider such practical impacts on people, which is why a meaningful implementation of a ‘loneliness test’ on all public policy is more important than ever.
We know from our own research that catching people at critical life transitions, such as a health crisis or bereavement can prevent them from getting trapped in a cycle of chronic loneliness, which in turn can increase the pressure on public services. Training people to spot the signs early, such as through social prescribing, could really help.
Over the past four years, the British Red Cross has supported over 10,000 of the UK’s most isolated people through our Co-op funded “Community Connector services”, with three quarters of people saying they feel less lonely as a result. What we know is that a friendly face and a helping hand can make a big difference in breaking the vicious cycle of loneliness that is all too common.
While the loneliness epidemic needs to be tackled at scale, any response must be flexible to the needs of different communities and people within them. For example, we know that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds can face barriers to accessing services which can impact on their ability to build meaningful connections.
If loneliness and social isolation is to be truly prevented, we can’t shy away from the need for continued funding, but we should also be confident that the investment will pay back by reducing the pull on our public services. We need to not just focus on the small gains we’ve made or making life better for a few people, but on creating a real sea-change for people and communities across the UK. We hope our new report will provide a platform for such debate.
- Read our new report on progress made against government loneliness targets
- Find out more about the Loneliness Action Group
- Get help with loneliness