Theresa May described loneliness as “one of the greatest public health challenges of our time” as she launched a national strategy to combat the issue.
The Prime Minister also praised the work of murdered West Yorkshire MP Jo Cox, who campaigned for a loneliness strategy before her death in 2016.
As part of the proposals, GPs will be able to refer people to social activities for loneliness, which is linked to illnesses including heart disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Doctors will be able to refer patients to activities including cookery classes, walking clubs and art groups as part of efforts to combat loneliness, Mrs May confirmed.
The Government will also partner with the Royal Mail on a new scheme in Whitby, Liverpool and New Malden, which will see postal workers check up on lonely people as part of their usual delivery rounds. Postal workers will be speaking with isolated people to help link them up with support from their families or communities if required.
Mrs May highlighted the “crucial role” The Yorkshire Post’s award-winning Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign played in “making strides towards ending this social injustice”., adding: “Loneliness is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, with as many as a fifth of adults across the country affected. Educating people about the heart-breaking impact of loneliness and how we can come together to prevent it is one of my priorities."
Loneliness a ‘major public health concern’ a number of isolated over 50s set to soar
Mrs May said: “Jo Cox was absolutely right to highlight the critical importance of this growing social injustice which sits alongside childhood obesity and mental well-being as one of the greatest public health challenges of our time.
“I was pleased to be able to support the Loneliness Commission set up in Jo’s name and I am determined to do everything possible to take forward its recommendations.
“This strategy is only the beginning of delivering a long and far reaching social change in our country - but it is a vital first step in a national mission to end loneliness in our lifetimes.”
About 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.
And three-quarters of GPs said they see up to five people every day suffering loneliness.
The PM also unveiled the first ever employer pledge to tackle loneliness in the workplace, supported by firms including Sainsbury’s, Co-op, National Grid, Transport for London, British Red Cross, and the Civil Service.
Reaching out to help overcome loneliness
Speaking on behalf of the Jo Cox Foundation, Ms Cox’s sister Kim Leadbeater said she was delighted.
“The work on loneliness has been a hugely important part of Jo’s legacy and it is heartwarming to see how much progress has been made on the subject since her murder,” she said.
“It is excellent to see that loneliness is now firmly on the Government’s agenda, and I would like to thank everyone who has been involved.
“The important thing now is to turn the dialogue and strategy into action - that is undoubtedly what Jo would want, and for every life that is made less lonely as a result of the work she started.”
Mrs May added: “The Yorkshire Post is playing a crucial role in raising awareness of the debilitating consequences inflicted by loneliness.”