Why the crisis of loneliness shows no signs of slowing down

THE LONELINESS crisis 'shows no sign of slowing down', campaigners have warned, more than three years since The Yorkshire Post began an award-winning campaign to highlight its devastating blight on thousands of people in the region.

MP Rachel Reees is co-chair of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission. Picture: Tony Johnson
MP Rachel Reees is co-chair of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission. Picture: Tony Johnson

The Campaign to End Loneliness, partners in The Yorkshire Post’s Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign warned that chronic loneliness is “still cutting lives short” in the region, despite the issue coming to the forefront of national attention since we began campaigning in February 2014.

More than 91,000 older people in Yorkshire and the Humber say they are lonely some or most of time, and evidence shows it can contribute to dementia, high blood pressure and other health conditions.

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This newspaper, joined by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, campaigners, a Yorkshire MP and the sister of murdered MP Jo Cox, is now calling on our readers to take personal responsibility for those in our lives at risk of loneliness.

Leeds West Labour MP Rachel Reeves, co-chair of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commision, urged readers to simply “start a conversation” with those around them who are at risk of loneliness. The Commission launched a national call to action to encourage people to pledge to chat to neighbours, old friends or colleagues as a practical fix to the epidemic.

She said: “The absence of human interaction is like hunger or thirst - a real human instinct that needs to be satisfied. But the truth is, there are too many people who don’t have that in their lives.

“Loneliness is something, that by its nature, we can only tackle together.”

Mrs Cox first announced her plans for a cross-party commission examining the crisis of loneliness in The Yorkshire Post in February 2016, just four months before her murder.

Her sister Kim Leadbeater said a “secret army” of volunteers were already letting people now “they are not alone” and applauded the Hidden Epidemic campaign for letting people know they “have the power to effect change”.

“Three quarters of people in Yorkshire say they have experienced loneliness, but nearly as many of us say we want to address it,” she said. “The answers lie in our own communities, in reaching out to those around us, rebuilding the networks which have been slowly crumbling and creating new networks and friendships.

“As with many of the issues that Jo felt passionately about, she believed this was beyond short-term party politics and instead about having the vision to see a better society and a fairer future for everyone.”

Last month The Department of Health launched a new Health and Wellbeing Fund aimed at helping voluntary organisations develop social prescribing projects, as part of its efforts to tackle loneliness.

Mr Hunt, who commended The Yorkshire Post for encouraging its readers to offer companionship to the chronically lonely, said loneliness could have a “devastating impact” on a person’s health and wellbeing.

Mr Hunt said: “This country should be the best in the world for growing old and it is important that we act together as a society and a government to ensure the social contract between generations.”

Executive director of Campaign to End Loneliness, Laura Alcock-Ferguson, said: “Three years on from the start of the Hidden Epidemic campaign, the epidemic of loneliness in older age is showing no signs of slowing down.

“The health impacts of loneliness can be devastating; it is worse for you than obesity, and as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Chronic loneliness is still cutting lives short – which is why we must continue to raise awareness of it.”