MPs unite to focus on crisis of Christmas loneliness

Politicians across the political spectrum will unite today to highlight the heartbreaking issue of loneliness amid warnings that support services will be inundated during the Christmas period.

Emma Gale, who hit rock bottom, is now a volunteer.

The Jo Cox Foundation, set up in memory of the murdered Batley MP who was killed in 2016, is holding a reception in Westminster to discuss the crisis of loneliness at Christmas and is calling on MPs to join the organisation to provide support for constituents who are isolated during the festive period.

Kim Leadbeater, the sister of Mrs Cox, will be at the reception which dozens of MPs are expected to attend including the Loneliness Minister, Mims Davies, and the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson.

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Four Yorkshire MPs, Rachel Reeves, Mary Creagh, Yvette Cooper and Graham Stuart, have put their names to a cross-party letter saying that politicians should come together to help tackle loneliness.

Jo Cox, at Batley Railway Station

Ms Leadbeater told The Yorkshire Post: “Loneliness was an issue that was close to Jo’s heart, and the progress that has been made to raise awareness of the problem at a national level is something she would no doubt be very proud of.

“But as a proud Yorkshire lass, Jo would also be very keen to support the amazing individuals and groups across the county who are working hard every day to tackle social isolation and build compassionate communities.

“Reaching out to someone over the festive period can make a real difference and is something we can all do. “By checking on our neighbours, sharing food and a friendly conversation we can work to ensure that no one feels lonely at Christmas.”

Emma Gale knows just how much difference a call can make. She endured years of health problems and was unable to get a diagnosis.

Ms Gale, of Leeds, said: “In the run-up to Christmas 2016 I was sent home from hospital feeling ill, lonely and a burden. I decided my family would be better off without me so made plans to end my life. After driving to a quiet spot, I decided to call Samaritans.

“I just needed someone to talk to, so I didn’t feel so alone. I will never forget what that Samaritan did for me, they gave me the biggest gift possible – the gift of life.”

She has become a Samaritans volunteer and will work over Christmas, helping others who are struggling to cope.

Meanwhile, new figures have revealed that one in three calls to Samaritans on Christmas Day is from people who feel lonely and isolated. The Samaritans charity responded to more than 400,000 calls for help during December 2017 by phone, email and text throughout the UK and Ireland.

Despite the festivities, more than 11,000 of those calls for help and support were made on Christmas Day.

Heather O’Donnell, the chief executive officer of Age UK Leeds, said: “Research shows that nearly a million older people feel lonelier at Christmas time and admit that it isn’t a special day for them and just passes them by.

Nearly one million people aged over 65 don’t see or hear from anyone over the festive period and many rely on the TV for companionship.

“There are 37,000 older people in Leeds who are lonely or socially isolated.

“We can all make a difference to the older people around us. Take time to talk or give someone a call. Ring the doorbell and hand a Christmas card to your elderly neighbour. Offer to help with their shopping or even better, if you have a spare chair at your dinner table, invite them to join you for Christmas dinner.”

The Yorkshire Post launched its award-winning campaign Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic in 2014 to highlight the issue.