Rachel Reeves: Let's love like Jo Cox and help end solitude

WHEN Jo Cox died, her friends, family and colleagues agreed the best tribute we could all pay her was to continue her great work.

Rachel Reeves is to continue the loneliness campaign spearheaded by Jo Cox (above) before the Batley & Spen MP was killed in June while attending a constituency surgery in Birtsall.

She was a tireless campaigner on a host of causes, including the issue of chronic loneliness. That’s why as her friend, I was honoured to be asked to carry on her fight to develop a new National Commission on Loneliness.

I will be co-chairing the cross-party campaign with Conservative MP Seema Kennedy and we are planning to have an official launch at Westminster later this year.

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Even though Jo was a busy working mum, she understood the crushing nature of the solitude felt by many people.

She saw at first hand the great work done in Batley & Spen by volunteers at the Royal Voluntary Service.

As Jo said to The Yorkshire Post in February: “The scale of this crisis shocks me to the core. Every time I meet someone who is lonely, or a volunteer or a charity working with people who are isolated, the scale of the challenge really blows me away.”

As a patron of Bramley Elderly Action, I’ve seen the fantastic work that organisation does to provide opportunities and support for older people in Bramley, Swinnow and parts of Stanningley.

Nationally, an estimated one in five people over 60 feel that their isolation means they feel they have no one to turn to.

According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, 17 per cent of older people are in contact with friends, family and neighbours less than once a week.

One in 10 older people are in contact less than once a month. Just over half of all people aged 75 and over live alone.

And, four out of 10 older people – an estimated 3.9 million – say the television is their main company, according to Age UK figures from 2014.

But, as Jo recognised, loneliness is not something that just affects older people. It is just as likely to hit a single mother who feels trapped and lonely at home, or someone who is struggling to find work and missing the interaction that many people enjoy in the workplace.

The problem is partly due to our ageing population and the changing nature of family structures that see more people living alone.

The Campaign to End Loneliness, Age UK and other organisations are doing their best to tackle the isolation that far too many people endure.

The more we can do to ease the pain of loneliness, the more money we are likely to save at a later stage when it comes to treating people for depression and other mental health problems.

That’s why I will be working with Seema Kennedy and other members of our campaign to establish a National Commission on Loneliness to end the scourge of solitude.

We should all be doing far more to help those who feel alone and isolated, visiting friends, relatives or neighbours who would enjoy some company.

We should try to live up to the commitment we made at her memorial service by trying to love like Jo. That way we could all make a difference.

It would be a fitting legacy for Jo and would help transform the lives of many of the people she worked so hard to help.

Rachel Reeves is Labour MP for Leeds West.