Olga Zeveleva
24 January 16:16.
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What problems will the UK's new Minister for Loneliness be tasked with solving?

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The new Minister for Loneliness has a complex task on her hands. Drawing on the recommendations of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, the Prime Minister has tasked the new Minister for Loneliness with developing a cross government strategy to address loneliness in England, develop the evidence base around what works, to establish and to set up a dedicated fund to stimulate innovative solutions, as well as to establish indicators to measure loneliness. While this is a positive step forward, the Minister needs to take a pause and begin with exploring the fundamental problem. Why are people lonely? What are the risk factors for loneliness at different stages of the life course? Why do some people recover from loneliness while others become chronically lonely?

The reasons people become lonely are not always attributable to the family’s failure to support them, or a lack of community spirit. There are often multiple reasons why someone becomes lonely, with divorce and bereavement being just two of many transition points into loneliness.

In order to find realistic solutions to loneliness, the new Minister needs to begin by understanding the risk factors for loneliness across the life course. Loneliness is more complex than media and political sound bites suggest. The reasons people become lonely are not always attributable to the family’s failure to support them, or a lack of community spirit, which is implicit in some of the actions tasked to the new Minister. There are often multiple reasons why someone becomes lonely, with divorce and bereavement being just two of many transition points into loneliness.  

Research also shows that there is a socio-economic gradient in loneliness, with those in the poorest communities at greater risk of experiencing loneliness. This suggests that the New Minister for loneliness also needs to look at the impact that Government policy has on increasing the risk of loneliness. Particularly, how policy can reinforce loneliness e.g.  the impact of Austerity cuts on service provision, which has meant cuts to vital community resources for those most at risk of loneliness. Policy can also be used to reduce loneliness e.g  ensuring people have an adequate income to enable them to participate in social and civic engagement activities. It is for this reason there needs to be a specific indicator to measure the impact of policy across the board on loneliness risk, rather than the proposed Family and Relationships Test for new policy.

Research shows that there is a socio-economic gradient in loneliness, with those in the poorest communities at greater risk of experiencing loneliness.

 In addition, when exploring ways to solve loneliness, it is not all tea and cakes and befriending or volunteering. While this will suit some people, others will struggle in group situations. While for others the complexity of the underlying triggers for loneliness will mean that they will need multiple complex interventions. What this all means is that the problems the Minister will be tasked with solving in order to address loneliness will span across Government departments from transport, to health and social care, to pensions and benefits and beyond. This will involve pulling together a holistic, cross-departmental and multi-agency approach that covers all of the above and which will also address cross-cutting issues such as stigma, ageism, discrimination, and poverty across the lifecourse.

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