For the first time, Members of Parliament, policy makers and a number of leading organisations and charities have come together to expose the growing crisis of loneliness and find ways to tackle it. Before her tragic death almost one year ago, my former colleague Jo Cox recognised this in her constituency and took the first steps towards setting up the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The Commission aims to highlight the problem of loneliness and act as a ‘call to action’ to mobilise the public to help themselves.
Loneliness doesn’t discriminate, it affects all age groups, young and old alike. A survey by Action for Children found that 43% of their 17-25 year old service users had experienced loneliness, and that of the same group less than half said they felt loved. A study by the Co-op and the British Red Cross reveals that over 9 million people in the UK across all adult ages are either always or often lonely. That is more than the population of London. There are other similarly sobering statistics from other organisations such as Sense which show that up to 50% of disabled people will be lonely on any given day and a report for Carers UK revealed that 8 out of 10 carers felt lonely or isolated as a result of looking after a loved one.
I believe that we all have a responsibility at an individual, family and community level to identify people with care needs and provide support to improve their health and wellbeing. There is no single solution that can tackle loneliness but we can all help by talking to a neighbour, visiting an old friend, or just making time for people we meet.
Local commissioners are responsible for ensuring that health services match the needs of the population. Since 2012, local authorities have been expected to identify areas where older people suffer most acutely from loneliness to allow them to tackle the growing problem of social isolation and its harmful effects.
The Department of Health has also supported the development of a ‘digital toolkit’ for local commissioners, developed by the Campaign to End Loneliness, to support them in understanding and commissioning services to tackle loneliness and social isolation in their communities.
Although people can be lonely at any age, it is often older people it affects most. In mid-2015 around 24% of the population of Kenilworth and Southam was aged 65 and older. Kenilworth and Southam ranked 80 out of 650 constituencies in the UK on the proportion of the population aged 65 and older, meaning it was in the top 13% of constituencies on this measure. Some of those older people will be lonely today. None of them should be.