Tackling Loneliness

Communities need more safe and welcoming public spaces – including public toilets, street lighting, disability access and benches – in order to reconnect with others, says Dr Lisa Cameron

Our communities need to be loneliness-proofed if East Kilbride, Strathaven, Lesmahagow is to experience a connected recovery from the coronavirus crisis, Dr Lisa Cameron MP has urged.

Action that brings our communities together will be key to any roadmap out of the Covid-19 crisis, as a new poll shows that around two-in-five (38%) of UK adults are more worried about their feelings of loneliness than they were before the pandemic.

Loneliness negatively impacts people’s health and wellbeing as well as their ability to cope and recover.

One year on from the first national lockdown in March 2020, DR Lisa Cameron MP is backing MPs and peers from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Loneliness which has published A Connected Recovery, a report that details the results of the first ever independent inquiry into the issue.

They are calling on the Prime Minister to reaffirm his commitment to tackling loneliness during Covid19 recovery and in the long term.  To achieve this, the APPG sets out a roadmap, calling on the government to adopt 15 recommendations including investing in the local community infrastructure people need to connect, loneliness-proofing all new transport and housing developments, and closing the digital divide by increasing digital skills and confidence.

Dr Lisa Cameron MP said: “As many of our social interactions are still confined to outside, it is crucial that communities have more accessible, safe and welcoming public spaces so people can still connect with their support networks and avoid loneliness along with a deterioration of wellbeing. This should be vital to any recovery plan.”

This comes at a time when a new British Red Cross survey shows:

  • Around two-in-five (39%) UK adults say they don’t think their feelings of loneliness will go away after the coronavirus crisis is over and a third (32%) say they are concerned about being able to connect with people in person in the way they did prior to the pandemic.
  • More than a third of people (35%) feel less connected to their local community than they did before Covid-19 and 40% of people fear it will be difficult to reconnect with people they’ve been out of contact with when lockdown restrictions lift.
  • 30% of UK adults say a lack of facilities like public toilets, local bus services or accessibility adaptations will prevent them from meeting people when restrictions lift while more than two fifths (42%) are concerned about feeling safe using public facilities and spaces while coronavirus is still present in the UK.
  • More than one-in-five (23%) UK adults disagree that their area has good, free public spaces where they can meet up with others once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

MPs and peers also call for local areas to be incentivised to develop local loneliness plans.

Alongside a call for targeted and stable funding to tackle loneliness post-lockdown, the cross-party report makes specific recommendations to “loneliness-proof” new housing developments, invest in community and social infrastructure so people have places to go to where they can reconnect, and sets ambitious targets to close the digital divide.

This is because the make-up of our communities has changed and there are too many barriers that prevent people from connecting – such as a lack of green spaces, parks and gardens, public toilets, playing areas, local bus services, and ramps for people with disabilities.

Too many people also lack access to the internet or mobile technology, meaning they have struggled to stay in touch with others through periods of lockdown. At the same time, the changing nature of our communities needs to be taken into account as they have become more diverse, people are living longer, and many have to manage health conditions and disabilities.

The parliamentary inquiry puts the spotlight on some groups of people shown to be disproportionately affected by loneliness – such as young parents, people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, those with disabilities, people struggling with mental health conditions and carers.

British Red Cross executive director Zoe Abrams said: “It’s crucial that the government’s commitment to tackling loneliness does not wane after this pandemic.

“The need for action on loneliness will only grow as we work to re-engage those who have been severely isolated during the pandemic and those who have recently faced the life transitions which we know can lead to loneliness – such as poor physical and mental health, losing a job or losing a loved one.[1] 

“Addressing the impacts loneliness and social isolation have had during the pandemic will be vital to building our resilience to future crises. We know from our 150 years of responding to emergencies that people who are more connected socially are better able to cope with, and recover from, crises.”[2]

[1] Kantar Public (2016). Trapped in a bubble: an investigation into triggers for loneliness in the UK. London: British Red Cross & Co-op. Available at: redcross.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/action-on-loneliness

[2] Left behind and lonely; Bagnall, K (2018) Resilience in an Ageing Greater Manchester, Ambition for Ageing  https://www.ambitionforageing.org.uk/sites/default/files/Resilience%20in%20an%20ageing%20Greater%20Manchester%20Full%20Report.pdf