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LONELINESS IS increasingly the most widespread social problem facing people in England, regardless of class or income, according to a survey of vicars.

Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of Church of England clergy described social isolation as a major or significant problem in their community, up from 58 per cent three years ago.

The figures formed part of a report published today by the Church Urban Fund (CUF) and the Church of England in to social action carried out by Anglican churches in England.

Social isolation was listed as a more common problem than unemployment, debt and family breakdown by the 1,812 vicars who completed the questionnaire at the end of last year.

It also found the number of churches helping to run food banks had doubled since 2011 from 33 per cent to 66 per cent while nearly a fifth are also involved in helping credit unions.

Paul Hackwood, chairman of CUF and a former Bradford vicar, said: “We see through our work all around this country the damage that loneliness and isolation brings to people’s lives. It is fantastic to see the difference that churches are making in local communities, rebuilding hope and growing meaningful relationships.”

However, the report, called Church In Action, said that more volunteers must be recruited if the church is to expand its “crucial” work.

It said: “As well as regular Sunday services, churches have traditionally been, and remain, places where people can gather and get to know one another. Whether it is through holiday clubs, youth groups, parent-toddler groups or lunch clubs, churches help to reduce loneliness and isolation.”

Tim Thornton, the Bishop of Truro, said: “We live in an increasingly individualistic and atomised society. Through fostering social networks, friendships and family life, churches help to provide the ‘glue’ that binds people together and help build stronger communities.”

Mr Hackwood is now a Residentiary Canon at Leicester Cathedral.

He has extensive experience of social justice issues from a faith perspective, having worked previously as Social Responsibility Adviser to the Bishop of St Albans and as vicar of Thornbury in Bradford.