More people are lonely than ever before and the Government is failing to alleviate this terrible situation.
During lockdown, one in four adults said they had felt lonely, up from one in ten before lockdown. Social distancing has left millions more people in the UK feeling isolated.
Thanks to the new network of “social prescribers” we have a better idea of who is lonely and have link workers who could support them to take part in activities that would reduce loneliness. But what are these activities?
If you’re living in a “high” tier area then “People must not meet socially with friends and family indoors”. That’s a problem since meeting socially with friends and family indoors is one of the main ways we have of reducing loneliness.
There are lots of online activities taking place which is of little comfort to the 9 million people who are unable to use the Internet by themselves. They’re often the people who are most at risk of being lonely.
Online is fine as far as it goes. It’s good for learning or maintaining connections with people you already know, but much less effective at building new relationships, especially for people who might be anxious or not have English as a first language (both factors associated with a higher risk of loneliness).
The Government has responded with what they describe as “a major effort” including a £5 million fund and a new website. For context, the overall cost of the job retention scheme was £40 billion.
One of the most brutal things about loneliness is the way it spirals and compounds. The longer people are lonely, the more risk averse they become, the harder they find it to take action to feel less lonely. If we do not do more than we are currently doing, people will get lonelier and lonelier and find it harder and harder to stop being lonely.
This isn’t just about supporting existing activities or clubs to go online. There are so many people who are keen to help but there is no infrastructure to enable them to do so. Ask yourself, if you wanted to run an online group for lonely people in your neighbourhood, would you know how to find them? Is there an organisation that would talk you through how to do this? For most of us the answer is “no”.
There are lots of promising approaches to reducing loneliness but until the Government takes the problem more seriously, the long winter months are going to be extremely difficult for millions of people.
Cost of job retention scheme https://www.statista.com/statistics/1122100/uk-cost-of-furlough-scheme/