Some 200,000 older people in Britain are suffering loneliness and Prime Minister, Theresa May, on Monday launched the government’s first strategy to tackle the problem.
These older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month, No. 10 Downing Street said in a statement, citing a shock report.
The prime minister described loneliness as one of the greatest public health challenges facing society today, urging all family doctors in England to refer patients experiencing loneliness to community activities and voluntary services.
The statement said: “Three quarters of GPs (family doctors) surveyed have said they are seeing between one and five people a day suffering with loneliness.
“This is linked to a range of damaging health impacts, such as heart disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.”
A practice known as ‘social prescribing’ will allow doctors to direct patients to community workers offering tailored support to help people improve their health and wellbeing, instead of defaulting to medicine.
As part of the long-term plan for the National Health Service (NHS), funding will be provided to link patients to activities, such as cookery classes, walking clubs and art groups.
The aim is to reduce 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 with evidence showing loneliness can be as bad for health as obesity or smoking,” said Downing Street as May also announced the first ever ‘Employer Pledge’ to tackle loneliness in the workplace.
A network of high-profile businesses have pledged to take further action to support their employees’ health and social wellbeing.
Postmen and post women in three areas, Liverpool, New Malden and Whitby, will check up on lonely people as part of their usual mail delivery rounds.
The postal workers will be speaking with isolated people to help link them up with support from their families or communities if required.
The Prime Minister also confirmed $2.4 million dollars would be used to transform under utilised areas, such as creating new community cafes, art spaces or gardens.
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.”
As part of the new strategy, May has added loneliness to ministerial work at the Ministry for Housing, Community and Local Government, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Transport.
This is in addition to the Department for Health and Social Care and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Loneliness will also be embedded into relationships education classes so children in primary and secondary schools can learn about loneliness and the value of social relationships.
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.
“Our Strategy sets out a powerful vision for addressing this generational challenge.”