In my constituency, there are a wide range of charities and community action groups that are absolutely committed to reducing loneliness.
Loneliness is are a real cause for concern in our society. Often it is thought that loneliness is an issue that affects the elderly, but in truth anyone can be impacted. This is particularly true at times of change in life: having children, redundancy, retirement, bereavement, moving home. The list is long. The health implications of sustained loneliness are longer. Physically, loneliness can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of dementia. Mentally, loneliness can cause depression and anxiety, poor decision making and increased risk of addiction to drugs or alcohol.
In Essex, the County Council work collaboratively with a huge number of partners to tackle loneliness and social isolation. Initiatives range from commissioned services to lending support to less formalised activity within the community. Within Chelmsford, our CVS champions, supports and strengthens local charities, voluntary and community groups and charities such as the Ideas Hub have reducing loneliness and social isolation at their core. The work of our faith groups and community movements such as Neighbourhood Watch and Project Connect are also real engines for change.
Jo Cox highlighted the critical importance of the growing social injustice of loneliness, which is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time. Theresa May and the Conservative government have supported the Loneliness Commission, which was established in Jo’s name and remain committed to taking forward its recommendations.
In October 2018, Theresa May launched the first cross-governmental strategy to tackle loneliness, calling loneliness “one of the greatest public health challenges of our time”. The strategy sets out a commitment to social prescribing, which allows GPs to refer patients directly to community workers offering tailored support to help people improve their health and wellbeing instead of defaulting to a medial intervention. The Prime Minister has confirmed that this will be in place for all GPs in England by 2023. Other commitments include:
- Adding loneliness to a number of ministerial portfolios to ensure real focus
- Incorporating loneliness into ongoing policy decisions with a view to a loneliness ‘policy test’ being included in departmental plans
- £1.8m of funding to increase the number of community spaces available, building on the £20m fund announced in June 2019 to help charities and community groups to expand their programmes which connect communities
- Embedding loneliness into relationships education classes so children in primary and secondary schools can learn about loneliness and the value of social relationships
- An ‘Employer Pledge’ to tackle loneliness in the workplace
- The piloting of a government partnership scheme with the Royal Mail in Liverpool, New Malden and Whitby which will see postal workers checking up on lonely people as part of their delivery rounds
- Pilot projects to support flexible and inclusive volunteering for people with long-term health conditions
- Exploring the impact that technology can have on loneliness with industry leaders to see how it can be prevented
Essex County Council and many voluntary organisations across Chelmsford work incredibly hard to connect communities and link residents to services and one another. I am proud to support this vital work.