Loneliness is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, and a new cross-Government strategy means all GPs in England will be able to refer patients to community activities and voluntary services.
Three quarters of GPs surveyed said they are seeing between one and five people a day suffering with loneliness.
The condition is linked to a range of damaging health impacts, like heart disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Shockingly, around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.
The new practice known as ‘social prescribing’ will allow GPs to direct patients to community workers offering tailored support to help people improve their health and wellbeing, instead of defaulting to medicine. It will be operational within five years.
As part of the long-term plan for the NHS, funding will be provided to connect patients to a variety of activities, such as cookery classes, walking clubs and art groups, reducing demand on the NHS and improving patients’ quality of life.
Up to a fifth of all UK adults feel lonely most or all of the time, and as evidence shows loneliness can be as bad for health as obesity or smoking, the Prime Minister has also announced the first ever ‘Employer Pledge’ to tackle loneliness in the workplace.
A network of high-profile businesses including Sainsbury’s, Transport for London, Co-op, British Red Cross, National Grid and the Civil Service are among the first to promise to take further action to support their employees’ health and social wellbeing.
A new pilot scheme in Liverpool, New Malden and Whitby will see postal workers check up on lonely people as part of their usual delivery rounds.
A sum of £1.8m from the government will be used to increase the number of community spaces available, to transform underutilised areas by creating new community cafes, art spaces or gardens.
This funding builds on £20m announced in June to help charities and community groups expand programmes that bring people together within communities.
Theresa May said: “Loneliness is a reality for too many people in our society today… it can affect anyone of any age and background…
“Across our communities there are people who can go for days, weeks or even a month without seeing a friend or family member.
“So Jo Cox was absolutely right to highlight the critical importance of this growing social injustice which sits alongside childhood obesity and mental wellbeing as one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.
“I was pleased to support the Loneliness Commission set up in Jo's name and I am determined to do everything possible to take forward its recommendations.
“This strategy is a vital first step in a national mission to end loneliness in our lifetimes.”
Further commitments have been made to help people of all ages build connections, by the following;
Adding loneliness to various ministerial portfolios,
Incorporating loneliness into ongoing policy decisions with a view to a loneliness ‘policy test’ being included in departments’ plans.
Embedding loneliness into relationships education classes so children in primary and secondary schools can learn about loneliness and the value of social relationships.
Pilot projects to support flexible and inclusive volunteering for people such as those with long-term health conditions, which will roll out in up to five pilot areas in England.
Meeting tech companies to discuss loneliness - Tracey Crouch and Margot James, the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries will explore the impact technology has on loneliness and how they can help prevent it.
Minister for Loneliness, Tracey Crouch said: “Nobody should feel alone or be left with no one to turn to. Loneliness is a serious issue that affects people of all ages and backgrounds and it is right that we tackle it head on.
“By bringing together health services, businesses, local authorities, charities and community groups we will raise awareness of loneliness and help people build connections to lead happier and healthier lives.”
Kim Leadbeater, Jo’s sister, on behalf of the Jo Cox Foundation said: “I am delighted that the strategy for tackling loneliness is being launched today. The work on loneliness has been a hugely important part of Jo’s legacy and it is heartwarming 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.
“The important thing now is to turn the dialogue and strategy into action; that is undoubtedly what Jo would want, and for every life that is made less lonely as a result of the work she started and that we have all continued, we will take great comfort.”