21 May 2019

Social prescribing is a vital part of treatment to tackle loneliness

Loneliness Minister Mims Davies speaks about loneliness at a British Red Cross and Co-op conference

Social prescribing is a vital part of treatment to tackle loneliness, according to new findings from British Red Cross and Co-op

A service that helps people feeling lonely to reconnect with their communities has revealed valuable insights into social prescribing as a tool to beat loneliness.

The British Red Cross and Co-op have worked in partnership to tackle loneliness since 2015, supporting more than 9,000 people in almost 40 UK locations through the Connecting Communities service. 

Today, the two organisations launched a report, Fulfilling the Promise: How Social Prescribing Can Best Treat Loneliness, at the flagship conference of the Loneliness Action Group, co-chaired by the two organisations.

The report makes ten recommendations to guide social prescribers and other health professionals such as GPs, social workers, health visitors and midwives when people ask for help with loneliness.

Social prescribing involves referring patients to non-clinical support and activities in the community. It aims to help people with issues such as loneliness, anxiety, obesity, smoking and poor mental health.

The recommendations from the British Red Cross and Co-op include: doing more to better understand and identify when people are lonely; offering greater support to providers of social prescribing services and activities; reaching out to and involving communities in different ways to tackle loneliness.

The latest evaluation of Connecting Communities, a social-prescribing style service, shows nearly 70% of service users experienced lower levels of loneliness following support, with three-quarters also rating themselves as having improved wellbeing.

The Government has committed to providing 1,000 link workers to support social prescribing in England in 2020 and 2021, with the initiative extended further by 2023/24.

Zoë Abrams, executive director of strategy, advocacy and communications at the British Red Cross and co-chair of the Loneliness Action Group, said: “Social prescribing is at its best when it looks closely at an individual's needs, hopes and goals. In this way, it helps reconnect people back into their communities, which our research shows is critical to effectively tackling loneliness.
“As the British Red Cross, we see on a daily basis the power of human connection to help rebuild lives in the face of challenges, including loneliness. Establishing meaningful relationships is vital to building the resilience and independence of individuals. We urge all those who commission services to take on board the recommendations of our report and help ensure that social prescribing achieves its potential to become a powerful force to reduce loneliness.”

Paul Gerrard, of the Co-op, said: “The results set out in the report show that the Connecting Communities service has had a dramatic impact on loneliness and a positive impact on people’s general wellbeing.

“It is cost-effective as the social return on investment works out at more than double the amount invested.

“We therefore believe that this is a blueprint that can now be rolled out by other commissioners and we would urge the Government to encourage the adoption of this proven approach.”

Addressing the Loneliness in Action Group conference, Minister for Loneliness Mims Davies MP said the Government had committed to implementing 60 policies across nine departments to address loneliness.

She gave further details of plans to support students through life transitions and a £1m fund to explore digital and technological solutions to tackle the issue of loneliness.

She said: “Loneliness is a personal experience.  We need to listen and, more importantly, understand its impact on people because that makes for good policies and good outcomes.

“The Loneliness Action Group has had an enormous influence on how we understand loneliness and it’s shaped our policy in Government.  It’s inspiring grassroots activity across the country, informing business decisions and even personal relationships.

“Now, we want the loneliness agenda to be totally embedded across all areas of government, all sectors and all spaces.  We want to learn more about what you are doing, what is working best, how we can embed the loneliness agenda further in policy and how together we can make social and community change.”

Photo caption: 

1. Loneliness Minister Mims Davies MP pays tribute to the work of the Loneliness Action Group. 

Spokespeople available: Olivia Field, loneliness policy manager at the British Red Cross; Paul Gerrard, policy and campaigns director at the Co-op.

Images and video available: Case study content available on request.

Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Paul Scott on 0207 877 7618 or 07834 525650 or email paulscott@redcross.org.uk

  • In 2015, the Co-op and the British Red Cross launched a partnership to highlight and tackle loneliness and social isolation across the UK.
  • In December 2016 the partnership published Trapped in a Bubble. This major piece of research revealed that 1 in 5 UK adults (9 million people) are always or often lonely.
  • Throughout 2017, British Red Cross was part of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, working with 12 partner organisations to start a national conversation on the scale and impacts of loneliness. In December 2017, the Commission published its final 'call to action' report.
  • In January 2018, the Government responded to the Commission’s calls by announcing a new Minister for Loneliness and the development of a national strategy. This strategy was published in October 2018. We welcomed this Government action as a positive step towards the joined-up, preventative work needed to tackle the issue of loneliness in our society, and are now working closely with the cross-government team to implement the strategy. We are also influencing development of national strategies in Scotland and Wales.
  • The strategy contains all the recommendations the British Red Cross called for. This included the expansion of ‘social prescribing’. Going forwards, all GPs should be equipped to ask about a patient’s risk of loneliness and recommend support to them in the same way they would ask about stopping smoking, regular exercise and healthy eating.

We would now like to build on the success of the strategy to see:

  • loneliness test’ applied to ALL Government and local authority policies to look at how they might affect people’s ‘connectedness’ or increase loneliness.
  • ALL frontline medical staff assessing a patient’s quality of social connections in the same way they do other lifestyle factors e.g. smoking/exercise.
  • In September 2018 the British Red Cross and Co-op published ‘Connecting Communities to Tackle Loneliness and Social Isolation: learning report’ which brought together expertise and recommendations from more than 50 connector-service providers and commissioners.
  • Throughout 2018, we led the way in pressing for action on the Commission’s calls. We created the Loneliness Action Group and supported the creation of a new All Party Parliamentary Group. These provide platforms for ongoing collaboration and ensure loneliness remains high on political and public agendas.
  • The British Red Cross is committed to continuing to work closely with Government, our Loneliness Action Group partners and the private sector to continue to tackle loneliness.

About the Co-op:

The Co-op is one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives with interests across food, funerals, insurance, and legal services. It has a clear purpose of championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities. Owned by millions of UK consumers, the Co-op operates 2,600 food stores, over 1,000 funeral homes and it provides products to over 5,100 other stores, including those run by independent co-operative societies and through its wholesale business, Nisa Retail Limited. It has more than 63,000 colleagues and an annual revenue of £9.5bn.

About British Red Cross
The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies. We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on with their lives. We believe in the power of kindness. That’s why we connect those who’ve got kindness to share, to those who need it most, every day.