Yorkshire MP talks about loneliness 'crisis'

Rachel Reeves.

In two months’ time, the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission will publish a manifesto – a template for Government on how it should deal with the “crisis” of loneliness.

It is the culmination of a year of work for the commission that was founded by the murdered Batley and Spen MP whose name it bears but was carried forward in her memory by her good friend and colleague, the Leeds West Labour MP Rachel Reeves.

She co-chairs the commission with Seema Kennedy, MP for South Ribble, her Conservative rival from across the benches.

Immersing herself in the subject for the last ten months has been a learning curve for Ms Reeves, as the Commission’s 13 partner organisations – from disability charity to Sense to the British Red Cross and Action for Children – revealed startling new research exposing the scale of loneliness in the nation.

“If you look at the numbers, the British Red Cross and the Co-op said that nine million people in the country are lonely all or some of the time, and the disabilities charity published research that said a quarter of disabled people feel lonely every single day,” she said.

“Other research has shown that London is the loneliest city in the world.

“Loneliness is a real and growing problem.

“That’s why I think the commission has really tapped into something in the last year because people do see it – in their own families and their own lives.

“Part of what we’ve managed to do is to get people to talk about loneliness but also come up with some of the answers in terms of how we live our lives, but also in terms of what Government can do.”

The Government, she said, has been “very receptive and interested” in its work, but one of the key messages the commission has tried to relay is that we can all do something to tackle loneliness.

It uses the hashtag #happytochat on social media channels to promote its Start A Conversation campaign, something The Yorkshire Post is now urging its readers to adopt in their lives.

She said: “It works on a number of levels really.

“There is a stigma attached to loneliness.

“It’s harder for people to say ‘I am lonely’ than ‘I have cancer’.

“People get cancer and it’s understood, people can recover.

“Years ago, people were petrified of saying those words.

“There’s now that stigma, that if you admit that you’re lonely, you’re admitting that there is no one in your life – maybe it’s me, maybe it’s my fault I’m lonely.

“Part of the solution of loneliness is for us to look out more for each other.

“For people we know well, people in our family, but also our neighbours, our colleagues at work, and others.

“A bit like Jo did, always thinking about others and putting other people before ourselves.

“Sometimes it can be as easy as picking up the phone to a relative who we know is on their own, or inviting somebody to lunch – some of those basic things can make a huge difference to somebody’s life, and it’s those everyday actions and acts of kindness that are key to ensuring that more people feel needed and loved.

“There are things that Government can do, like ensuring the places that people come together are open and accessible, and funding some of those groups and organisations that help bring people together, but Government alone is not going to be the answer to the loneliness crisis we are in the grips of as a country.”

One of the reasons the commission’s partners are so varied is to show that loneliness can affect anyone, at any time of their life.

But there are efforts we can all make to ensure we are not susceptible, Ms Reeves said.

“There are trigger points when you are more at risk of experiencing loneliness – being bereaved, losing your job, retiring, becoming a carer, becoming disabled, going to university,” she said.

“But why are some people more susceptible to loneliness when a crisis or change happens?

“Part of it is social capital. If you are active in your local community, church, mosque or synagogue; if you play football every weekend or if you go to the chess club, then when you go through one of these triggers, you still have those human interactions.

“I think people have a responsibility in their own lives to reduce the risks of experiencing loneliness.”

The manifesto will be just part of the legacy of the commission. Perhaps more important will be the impact on ordinary people.

The Leeds West MP added: “I hope that people think a little bit about how they live their lives and what matters in our lives.

“And what matters more than anything is those human relationships and those bonds between people – and we should all invest more in those.”

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