An ambitious project that was first championed by the Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox almost a year ago will finally come to fruition this week, as MPs gather in Westminster for the launch of the national commission on loneliness.
The initiative was first announced by the late Labour MP last February, in response to the Yorkshire Post’s long-running campaign by to highlight the scale and impact of Britain’s growing loneliness epidemic.
Following Mrs Cox’s tragic murder in June, her friends and family vowed to continue her “tireless” work to establish a new commission that could investigate the causes and possible solutions to this “great moral challenge”. Seven months on the project is ready to launch, with a host of leading organisations, politicians and policy makers lending their support.
Among the MPs attending the even in Parliament on Tuesday are the Leeds West MP and friend of Jo Cox, Rachel Reeves, and the Tory MP Seema Kennedy. Both have been closely involved in establishing the commission, and spoke of their determination to achieve “concrete” changes.
“Loneliness is all around us and causing all kinds of damage to individuals and to society in general,” said Mrs Reeves.
“It affects people from all backgrounds - from the bullied school child, to the new mother, to the pensioner who has out-lived her friends and immediate family.
“And it is not just about being isolated from people in general – many lonely people are ‘hidden in plain sight’ living in towns and cities, ignored and alone.
“But all is not hopeless.... Every one of us can ‘live like Jo’ and help bring an end to this epidemic.”
More than nine million people in the UK – almost a sixth of the population – have admitted to feeling “always or often lonely” in recent surveys. Research suggests social isolation can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, including an increased likelihood of developing heart disease and depression.
It is understood that the commission will focus on different at-risk groups throughout the coming year, including men, refugees and new mothers, as well as children and the elderly. It will then publish a manifesto in December setting out its findings and recommendations – a “call to action” for leaders and communities across the country.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Ms Kennedy the MP for South Ribble, stressed that “Jo wanted to achieve something practical”. She added: “So this is all about trying to achieve change that is concrete – not just about sitting around and talking about the problem.”
Charities involved in the commission include Action for Children, Age UK, The British Red Cross, The Campaign to End Loneliness and Refugee Action.
Chief executive for Refugee Action Stephen Hale told this paper that many refugees face “huge barriers to learning”, that can leave families and individuals feeling isolated.
“Refugees often arrive in Britain with very little. They are forced to leave their whole lives behind – friends and loved ones, jobs and businesses,” he said. “We’re delighted to be working with others to tackle loneliness, inspired by Jo’s commitment to this issue.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, warned that loneliness “can have a devastating impact on older people’s health and wellbeing”. “It is an issue that captures public attention and we are grateful to the late Jo Cox MP for her dedication to raising its profile. We are honoured to support Rachel Reeves and Seema Kennedy in the continuation of Jo’s work,” she said.