Theresa May has put forward a cross-party strategy to combat loneliness and appointed Tracey Crouch as the world’s first ministerial lead for loneliness. The government have taken on board the messages projected by the Jo Cox Foundation to pioneer the first-of-its-kind strategy, which urges GPs to prescribe social activities to individuals who are suffering from loneliness.
Paying tribute to murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, Theresa May said “Jo Cox was absolutely right to highlight the critical importance of this growing social injustice which sits alongside childhood obesity and mental well-being as one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.”
“As Prime Minister I was pleased to be able to support the Loneliness Commission set up in Jo's name, and I am determined to do everything possible to take forward its recommendations.”
Jo’s sister Kim Leadbeater welcomed the prime ministers decision saying “The work on loneliness has been a hugely important part of Jo's legacy, and it is heart-warming to see how much progress has been made on the subject since her murder. It is excellent to see that loneliness is now firmly on the Government's agenda, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been involved in getting us to this point. For every life that is made less lonely as a result of the work Jo started and that we have all continued, we will take great comfort.”
The government has designated £1.8 m of funding towards infrastructure such as cafés, gardens and art spaces which can provide opportunities for people to connect with one another. Though some criticise that these funds will not be enough to facilitate the demand.
Workplaces such as Sainsbury’s, The Co-Op and The National Grid have taken action to improve their employees mental well-being. Mrs May has also announced a scheme in Liverpool which urges Royal Mail postal-workers to work on the front-lines in battling loneliness by checking in on isolated individuals.
The prime minister echoes the messages from the Jo Cox Foundation and the Loneliness Commission, which promote conversation as a way of combating loneliness, saying “...one of the best ways of tackling loneliness is through simple acts of kindness, from taking a moment to talk to a friend to helping someone in need.”
Overall, the government aims to raise awareness of loneliness across as many formats as possible. Primary and secondary schools will be required to cover loneliness as part of sex and relationship education programme by 2020. The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will explore ways of informing the public ways to address loneliness and bring about conversation across media platforms, such as radio and the internet, which emphasises the importance of mental well-being and how to take appropriate action to reduce the risk of loneliness in communities.
Public Health England’s mental health campaign will highlight the significance of social interaction and the affliction loneliness has on people’s health. Research showed being lonely was linked to serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke, as well as a contributing factor towards Alzheimer’s.
Recently, there has been a push by the British government to address mental health issues and the stigma surrounding them. With mental health services on the NHS in high demand, resources dwindle. Despite the prevalence of prescription drugs doubling over the last decade (31 m prescriptions in 2006 to 65 m in 2016 - an increase of 108.5%), the majority of people with mental health problems report not receiving the treatment they need. An estimated 40% of GP appointments are related to mental health. Three quarters of GPs see at least 1 person a day who is suffering from loneliness. Age UK estimates that the amount of people over the age of 50 whom suffer from loneliness will increase by almost 50% in the next decade.
“We know that loneliness can affect anyone – from teenagers and young adults to new parents, carers and the recently bereaved, from students starting at university to older people and those with disabilities, from those moving to a new area of the country to refugees. As Jo Cox said, loneliness doesn’t discriminate.” ~Tracey Crouch
The focus of the strategy is to build social relationships by nurturing communities and providing adequate infrastructure for those communities to engage with. From there, GPs can issue ‘Social Prescriptions’ for those at risk. Chairman of the Local Government Association, Ian Hudspeth, praised the decision saying “With local authorities facing a £7.8bn overall shortfall by 2025, investing in community care and preventative public health initiatives that can support lonely people, and prevent loneliness from spiralling, has never been more essential.”
Crouch concludes “This strategy is a first step; a foundation for a generation of policy work. It sets out a powerful and positive vision of how government can support people to build stronger relationships. It calls for everyone in society to play their part in making England a more friendly and supportive place, where we can all flourish.”