28 September 2023
Charities demand 'fresh thinking' from the next government to tackle loneliness
- Five years on from the first government loneliness strategy and the creation of a dedicated Minister for Loneliness, 14 leading charities and foundations are calling for a renewed commitment
- Guidance for future government to tackle loneliness launched by charities
A group of 14 charities and foundations including the British Red Cross, Mind and Age UK are calling on the government to increase efforts to tackle the growing crisis of loneliness in new guidance published today for a future government ahead of the general election.
Recent data from the Office of National Statistics shows over seven percent of people in the UK say they are often or always lonely. The number of people who are chronically lonely has risen by half a million since 2020. The charities are calling for the post of a dedicated Minister for Loneliness to be continued by the next government, as well as a refreshed strategy and renewed investment to support lonely people and rebuild community connections.
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. “
The charities have also highlighted the cost of loneliness, if not addressed. Research has shown that the impacts of loneliness on the workforce alone cost businesses £2.5bn a year. It also increases pressure on the NHS and social care.
Recommendations from the charities include:
- Appointment of a dedicated Minister for Loneliness by the next government, supported by a cross-government team
- A refreshed strategy, with clear objectives and dedicated funding
- Guidance for schools and employers to tackle loneliness
- Reform of social care and support so disabled people, older people, and people with long-term conditions and unpaid carers can build and maintain relationships and connections
Robin Hewings, Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness said:
“The last five years have seen massive progress in what we know about why people are lonely - and most importantly - what we can do about it. The task for the next five years is to use this knowledge 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.”
Another signatory to the calls is the Jo Cox Foundation. Established after the tragic murder of MP Jo Cox, who was dedicated to addressing loneliness, the foundation aims to inspire and galvanise positive change by building stronger communities, a better public life, and a fairer world.
Su Moore CEO of the Jo Cox Foundation said:
“The UK has a strong international reputation for addressing loneliness as a policy issue, largely thanks to the adoption of the recommendations from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, which Jo had established prior to her murder. However, since the Commission's report in 2017, there are now new pressures on the UK's loneliness crisis, and we need a renewed government commitment to addressing this worsening issue.
“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.”
Many community groups and organisations are already taking effective action to support people to build better social connections. Since 2017 one scheme, in Hertfordshire, has been tackling loneliness through a social prescribing service that is a collaboration between NHS services and voluntary groups, working together under one umbrella called the Hospital & Community Navigation Service.
The biggest service of its kind in the UK, it received 22,000 referrals in 2021/22 and aims to support people in the community who would otherwise be visiting their GP or going to A&E. It offers simple interventions like welfare visits at home, help with readjusting to homelife after a long stay in hospital, or support to overcome anxiety. But data shows that loneliness and social isolation is a core theme for many people they see.
Mary-Ann Lindsay, a British Red Cross manager with the Hospital & Community Navigation Service, said:
“Our statistics around annual referrals to our services in Hertfordshire show that social isolation is the biggest single issue we deal with and it's not going away.
“We are seeing people every day who have become socially isolated or lonely often because they are often trying to manage a number of contributing factors, like illness or disability, social deprivation, caring responsibilities and the rise in the cost of living. When one or two things occur together it can cause people to recede back from socialising because they feel stressed and low or because they can't afford to go out.
“But what we have found is that simple, inexpensive interventions, like befriending services, chatty cafes, walking groups and pottery or art therapy can rapidly turn around how people feel about themselves and their situations.
"Loneliness is a public health crisis which is an insidious problem in some of our communities. We need to think about it nationally as well as locally, looking at it in a more strategic way and investing in measures like social prescribing, so we can begin to address it more effectively in all our communities."
The Call to Action on tackling loneliness and building community was signed by 14 leading organisations, including the British Red Cross, Campaign to End Loneliness, Jo Cox Foundation, Age UK, Nesta, Carers UK, The Cares Family, Sense, LGBT Foundation, Marmalade Trust, Royal Voluntary Service, UK Youth, Mind and Astra Foundation.
Many of these were original partners of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness whose joint call to action in 2017 led the UK government to create the world’s first minister for loneliness. Over 100 organisations have contributed to the new guidance, including The Cares Family – a group of six charities that work together to strengthen social connection and reduce loneliness.
In Manchester, social clubs run by the Cares Family bring younger and older people together to share time, laughter, and friendship. Grace, 28, said she felt homesick and lonely when she first moved to Manchester knowing only one other person. She said: “Manchester didn’t feel like home, it felt like a place where I didn’t belong.”
But that changed when Grace got involved with Manchester Cares social clubs, which helped her to feel part of a warm and friendly community. She said: “I think that feeling part of a community and having connections with other people are both vital to promoting good mental health. Joining the social clubs brings me so much joy, I could happily sit and just listen to the stories that both younger and older neighbours share for hours.”
Notes to editors
About the British Red Cross
For over 150 years, the British Red Cross has helped people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. With millions of volunteers across 192 countries, the British Red Cross is part of an international humanitarian Movement that’s there for people before, during and after a crisis. Together, we are the world’s emergency responders. www.redcross.org.uk