Effort is needed on challenge to defeat loneliness

Susan Banka with Mohammed Yousuf, Community Comapanions Development Worker, at her home in Batley. Picture Scott Merrylees
Susan Banka with Mohammed Yousuf, Community Comapanions Development Worker, at her home in Batley. Picture Scott Merrylees
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A GOVERNMENT-led national strategy is needed to tackle loneliness, which has a “profoundly damaging” impact on the nation’s health, wellbeing and economy, a major report released today will say.

A manifesto drawn up after a 12-month investigation into the “epidemic”, initiated by the murdered Yorkshire MP Jo Cox, identifies a “gap in national leadership on loneliness” but says the “generational challenge” will only be met with concerted effort by all corners of society.

The cross-party commission, which is co-chaired by Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves and Conservative MP for South Ribble, Seema Kennedy, will unveil the full details of the report at an event at Jo Cox House in Batley today.

But we can reveal that it concludes that “tackling loneliness is a generational challenge that can only be

met by concerted action by everyone.

“Governments, employers, businesses, civil society organisations, families, communities and individuals all have a role to play,” it says.

Among its conclusions, the report calls for a UK wide strategy for loneliness across all ages, led by Government, but built on the experience of others including the NHS, voluntary and community sector and business.

It says a nominated lead Minister is needed to drive action on loneliness across Government, and is calling for the development of a Family and Relationships Test, so every new Government policy is assessed for its impact on loneliness.

It also wants Government match-funding for an innovation fund to stimulate “radical new solutions” to loneliness across all ages; and urges everybody to play their part in tackling the crisis, from individuals and families to local government, charities and employers.

Today, co-chairs of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, MPs Ms Reeves and Ms Kennedy, will say: “This report shares the ideas the Commission has worked on over the past year, and it challenges national government to step forward and lead a renewed push to tackle loneliness. But we know that loneliness will not end until we all recognise the role we can play in making that happen.

“Jo always looked forwards, not back: she would have said that what matters most now are

the actions, big and small, that people take in response to the Commission’s work. That’s a

responsibility for all of us.”

They will be joined at the event by expert witnesses who have faced loneliness themselves or have first-hand experience of how it can be tackled.

The Yorkshire Post exclusively revealed that Mrs Cox, the then-Labour MP for Batley, was launching the commission to investigate loneliness on the second anniversary of our Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign, in February last year. Just four months later Mrs Cox, who pledged to “blow the lid” on the loneliness crisis, was murdered while working in her constituency. In the months after her death, her work was taken forward by Ms Reeves and Ms Kennedy.

Throughout the year, the Commission, which is supported by thirteen leading charities and

businesses, has released evidence that showed loneliness affects people of all ages and has a profoundly damaging impact on the nation’s health, wellbeing and economy.

Over 9 million adults are often or always lonely, and three-quarters of GPs say they see up to five patients every day who are lonely.

The economic price of loneliness is estimated to cost employers £2.5 billion every year.

CASE STUDY

WHEN her husband of 20 years died, Susan Banka found herself plummeting within the grips of loneliness.

But she found support and help in the Royal Voluntary Service, and says she “wouldn’t be here today” without them.

The Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) is one of 13 partner organisations of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The charity had long been supported by the murdered Batley MP, and was one of three charities that benefited from donations given in her memory after her death in June last year.

Mrs Banka, from Batley in West Yorkshire, in Mrs Cox’s former constituency, found the RVS in the months after her husband Frank’s death in 2009.

Bereavement, one of the major life changes that has been proven to be a risk factor for causing loneliness, hit her hard. Her mental health broke down and last winter she spent several weeks in a care home receiving support.

When she returned home, the RVS was part of a package of support that helped her regain her independence.

Mrs Banka, 66, said: “I was very, very lonely. But when I was in the care home, the RVS contacted me and now I have a lady, Maureen, who visits me every week.”

The RVS has volunteer befrienders across Yorkshire. Some offer telephone befriending, other Community Companions, like Mrs Banka’s befriender, make home visits.

“My advice to anyone suffering would be to look into getting support,” she said. “Because once you go downhill, that’s it. It has done me a world of good.

“We just sit and talk, have a laugh - I feel that now I’ve got somebody on my side.”

Community development operations manager for the Royal Voluntary Service, Natasha Mort, said: “We are honoured and committed to carrying on the legacy of Jo Cox through our Community Companions project, which matches Royal Voluntary Service volunteers with older people who often feel lonely and isolated.

“Our volunteers are amazing and make a massive difference by offering much needed friendship, help and support to alleviate loneliness and ensure older people in their communities are safe, warm and well in their homes.”

In May this year, the RVS held a month-long campaign as part of its partnership with the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness to put a spotlight on male loneliness.

Its research suggests millions of men experience loneliness but “suffer in silence” - and at all ages.

In fact, the age at which men feel most lonely is 35.

The charity also discovered that seven per cent of men say they have no friends, and one in ten say they have no close friends. Men who are, or have been lonely, say it makes them feel isolated (39 per cent), depressed (35 per cent) and less confident (27 per cent).

In 2016, as part of the Yorkshire Post’s campaign Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic, we encouraged our readers to donate their time to RVS initiatives aimed at combating loneliness.

To volunteer, or to seek support, visit www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk.