Campaigners have warned that millions of lonely people are going uncounted as the tracking of isolation fails to go beyond those already in the care system.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre’s survey provides the first national measure of social isolation among those receiving adult social care. It found that in Yorkshire, only 43 per cent felt that they had as much social contact with others as they would like.
But Leeds was highlighted by Care Minister Norman Lamb as the worst in England, with more than two-thirds of the people surveyed – 70.3 per cent – saying they did not have as much social contact as they would like.
Mr Lamb urged more people to volunteer and support those who are lonely. “These figures show that there is still a proportion of people receiving social care without the level of contact they would like,” he said. “But we can all play our part in making sure that those who are isolated feel part of the community again.”
The provisional figures, set to be finalised later this year, were published as part of the Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework, a key tool for the Department of Health in setting direction for the delivery of adult social care.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s programme manager, Tracey Robbins, said people receiving care were often isolated in their homes and struggled to engage with the community.
In Leeds, she said, insular communities, a transient population and pockets of deprivation “all contribute towards a feeling of isolation”.
“Community groups, individuals and neighbours need to reach out to people in their area who are in need,” she said. “The true scale of loneliness is far wider.”
The Yorkshire Post launched its Loneliness – The Hidden Epidemic campaign in February, urging local authorities to write loneliness into their health strategies.
Loneliness increases the risk of heart disease, blood clots and dementia and can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The Campaign to End Loneliness urged ministers to measure loneliness across the population, so limited resources can be targeted at those most in need. It said the latest data should act as a “wake-up call” to make reducing loneliness a key target in health and wellbeing strategies.
The Department of Health confirmed it is considering a population-based measure.
Leeds City Council, recognised nationally for its 37 Neighbourhood Networks tackling loneliness, admitted that while it was “concerning” to see the city below the average, much of its work to tackle social isolation was not included in the survey.
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