A universal commitment to tackling loneliness must be adopted by local authorities across the region to effectively reduce the burden of the epidemic among older people, the Campaign to End Loneliness says.
Local health and wellbeing boards bring together key leaders from the health and care system to identify and prioritise the health issues in their area, but unequal prominence is given to tackling loneliness and isolation in their written strategies.
The charity ranks each board on how well they address loneliness in their joint health and wellbeing strategies and it finds that nine of this region’s boards make “no significant mention” of loneliness or isolation. They are: Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, Barnsley, Bradford, Doncaster, East Riding, Wakefield and North East Lincolnshire.
Kate Jopling, director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, says these local authorities need to be more clear about their commitment to tackling the problem: “Areas like North Yorkshire and Sheffield have already shown leadership on this issue, and there is other work going on across the region. But the commitment to tackling loneliness is not yet universal and not always explicit.”
Councillor Adam Ogilvie, Leeds City Council’s executive board member for adult social care, said the authority takes loneliness in the community very seriously.
“It’s embedded in what the Health and Wellbeing Board is doing. We have key outcomes for what we do in Leeds - we want people to live full and active lives - and implicit in that is the need to tackle loneliness and social isolation. Clearly it’s a very big issue. The Council has to take a lead but also has to look at how it works with health partners and voluntary services, as well as with individuals in our own communities.”
The Council is spending £2.3m this year, an increase of £300,000 on the previous year, to continue funding 37 Neighbourhood Networks across Leeds. Through these networks, some 1,862 volunteers provide support to 21,966 older people through a series of organised activities, social groups and befriending services.
Wakefield Council said that although the words ‘loneliness’ and ‘social isolation’ are not used in its strategy, it does recognise the issue within the services it commissions.
Dr Andrew Furber, the Council’s director of public health, said: “We have a range of services to help reduce social isolation including support from our Health and Wellbeing Development Workers that work across the district to improve the physical and mental health of older people. We also work with voluntary and community groups, such as Age UK’s befriending service, to tackle this issue with the support of volunteers from our local communities.”
East Riding of Yorkshire Council responded, saying the importance of loneliness and isolation is encompassed within its board’s priority to promote healthy ageing.
Councillor Pat Knight, Doncaster Council’s cabinet member for Health and Adult Social Care said its Health and Wellbeing Board, of which she chairs, is piloting a national framework to build “community capacity” which includes mapping what is currently happening across the Borough to address loneliness and isolation.
A number of the region’s other health and wellbeing boards are ranked more positively by the Campaign to End Loneliness.
For the leadership they have shown to address the issue, health and wellbeing boards for North Yorkshire, Sheffield, York and North Lincolnshire are rated as ‘gold’ performers, and Hull and Rotherham as ‘silver’.