Concerns have been raised that vulnerable people suffering from rural isolation may be falling through the gaps, amid rising demand in the wake of public-sector cutbacks.
Today, Minister for Civil Society Baroness Diana Barran praises the efforts of grass-roots projects in tackling a “worryingly high” level of isolation.
Charities are the “glue” that holds society together, she told The Yorkshire Post, hailing this newspaper’s campaigning efforts in challenging a stigma surrounding hidden loneliness.
But co-ordinators at one Yorkshire-based service fear they cannot always meet a high need amongst the most vulnerable, as demand for support rises.
“There have been a lot of public service cutbacks, and services are more restricted,” said Julie Proudler, co-ordinator for the Harrogate Easier Living (HELP) Ripon and Rural befriending services.
“But in a lot of areas like this, because of cutbacks to public services, they are looking to the third sector to plug the gap.”
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The wider HELP project works with a number of groups across the Harrogate district, organising events and coordinating a befriending service. Such services are “essential”, said Mrs Proudler but, she adds, it is not always possible to match volunteers and there is always a waiting list for more people seeking support.
“Most of the time it works really well,” she said, adding that demand for the project’s volunteer driver service has gone “through the roof” this year. “But if we promote it too much, we would never be able to cope.
“There are a lot of people who are sadly higher need than we are set up to deal with. I do feel that people like that can fall through the gaps if we are not careful.”
The warning comes as Baroness Barran hailed the efforts of the region’s volunteers. From the chronically lonely to those who are surrounded by people but still feel they do not belong, she said, levels of loneliness are “worryingly high”.
She said: “So many people who suffer from loneliness don’t tell anyone that it is happening. Just finding someone that they can talk to is an important first step.”
Praising The Yorkshire Post campaign, she said it was making a difference in removing the stigma of loneliness, which is the first step in addressing the challenge. And she has hailed the impact that grass-roots groups and volunteers have on tackling loneliness, which can have as big an impact on health as either obesity or smoking.
“Charities in our different communities do an absolutely extraordinary job in that the glue they create holds society together,” she said. “I’m not suggesting it’s the whole answer.
"They do play a unique role that we should recognise and celebrate and thank them for.”