The region’s council’s are now spending 55 per cent more on initiatives tackling loneliness than they were when the Yorkshire Post launched its award-winning loneliness campaign five years ago, with many authorities planning to increase spending in the coming months, as the epidemic continues to blight the lives of thousands of people.
Spending by 14 Yorkshire authorities who responded to a Freedom of Information request has risen by almost £3.5m since this newspaper launched its Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign in 2014, with more than £9.8m spent in 2018/19.
While the increase has been welcomed as “real results” for campaigning by a senior MP working on the issue, there has been a warning there is “still so much more to do” to help those in the grips of isolation.
The spending figures show just a proportion of the true figure being spent on loneliness initiatives, as some authorities, including Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Hull, were unable to provide specific figures for spend on isolation.
However, among those who did respond, councils were able to provide exact examples of the work they are doing to help the lonely.
North Yorkshire County Council tripled spending this year than in 2014/15, increasing from £559,000 to £1.6m.
Corporate director of health and adult services, Richard Webb, said tackling loneliness and isolation was a “major part” of its preventative work. Spending on “good, simple, practical ideas that work” would continue as the council looked to take forward the Government’s loneliness strategy.
He added: “A recent peer review of adult social care in North Yorkshire noted that the county spent
significantly more than other councils on prevention. We do this because we believe it is absolutely
the right thing to do to keep people independent and well and living where they want to live.”
East Riding Council has seen its spend rise from over £88,000 in 2014/15, to more than £1.2m this financial year, and expects to spend £1.4m in 2019/20. The rise of 1309 per cent is due to funding a social prescribing service, which sees the council, health service and voluntary sector work with people to identify any issues and connect them with local groups and services.
Director of public health Dr Tim Allison, said: “Social prescribing helps to reduce pressures on the health and social care system and supports people to improve their health and wellbeing by helping them to understand the impact of their lifestyles.”
As Yorkshire’s largest local authority, Leeds Council spent the most over the last year, £3.15m, up from £2.9m in 2014/15. It estimates it will spend £3.4m in 2019/20.
It invests in “demonstrably effective” measures that tackle loneliness, such as its widely-praised Neighbourhood Networks, and is investing in new technology such as the Careview App, which allows healthcare staff and police officers to report concerns about people who are socially isolated.
Coun Rebecca Charlwood, executive member with responsibility for health, wellbeing, and adults said:
“We know that loneliness has a real impact on people’s lives, health and wellbeing. As a result, tackling loneliness is a major part of our work to connect communities and provide health and social care for vulnerable people.”
Smaller councils without social care obligations are also spending on loneliness through small grants for voluntary groups and projects. Harrogate Council spent £208,000 this year, up 9 per cent on 201415; while Hambleton Council spent almost £45,000 in 2018/19.
While Doncaster was not able to provide specific spending figures, it holds weighty ambitions to be the country’s “least lonely place” by 2021.
The council’s, cabinet member for adult social care, Coun Rachael Blake, said: “We recognise the serious impact that social isolation and loneliness can have on our health and wellbeing at any age and at any stage of our life. We ensure that tackling social isolation is built into all of the work we do by working closely with our communities and commissioned services, making it a priority for all.”
Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness, said the figures suggested that councils were beginning to recognise the issue and “invest the badly needed funds to tackle the problem”.
She said: “Three years ago Jo Cox pledged to help ‘end the scourge that is loneliness’. This research is a clear sign that the work she started, taken forward by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness and Yorkshire Post’s excellent ‘Hidden Epidemic Campaign’, is producing real results.
“However, there is still so much more to do. Ending the loneliness epidemic will not be simple and it will not be achieved by one group or organisation. Everyone has a part to play their part.”
Executive director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, Laura Alcock-Ferguson, said she was “cautiously optimistic” about the figures.
“This investment is just the beginning of what needs to be a very long term commitment,” she said. “Loneliness is not an issue of the moment - and with an ageing population it is only going to get worse. Local councils and health services need to continue to find ways to help people connect.”