May launches government’s first Loneliness Strategy

Prime Minister Theresa May has launched the first cross-Government strategy to tackle loneliness, claiming it to be ‘one of the greatest public health challenges of our time’.

Confirming all GPs in England will be able to refer patients experiencing loneliness to community activities and voluntary services by 2023, the Prime Minister said that £1.8 million was to be made available to increase the number of community spaces available.

As part of her plans, ‘social prescribing’ will hopefully reduce demand on the NHS and improve patients’ quality of life by connecting patients to a variety of activities, such as cookery classes, walking clubs and art groups.

Three quarters of GPs surveyed have said they are seeing between one and five people a day suffering with loneliness. Furthermore, nearly a fifth of all UK adults feel lonely most or all of the time. May has, therefore, introduced ‘Employer Pledge’ to tackle loneliness in the workplace.

May said: “Loneliness is a reality for too many people in our society today. It can affect anyone of any age and background. Across our communities there are people who can go for days, weeks or even a month without seeing a friend or family member.

“So Jo Cox was absolutely right to highlight the critical importance of this growing social injustice which sits alongside childhood obesity and mental wellbeing 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.”

Minister for Loneliness, Tracey Crouch said: “Nobody should feel alone or be left with no one to turn to. Loneliness is a serious issue that affects people of all ages and backgrounds and it is right that we tackle it head on. Our Strategy sets out a powerful vision for addressing this generational challenge. By bringing together health services, businesses, local authorities, charities and community groups we will raise awareness of loneliness and help people build connections to lead happier and healthier lives.”

Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “For too many people, loneliness is their reality all year round. They are often less able to look after themselves, which can make existing health conditions worse, and are more likely to become reliant on public services sooner. With local authorities facing a £7.8 billion overall shortfall by 2025, investing in community care and preventative public health initiatives that can support lonely people, and prevent loneliness from spiralling, has never been more essential.

“So today’s announcement that £1.8 million will be available for more community spaces is an encouraging move, but it is also essential that the government delivers more funding for essential services like social care and public health, in the upcoming budget. To maximise the cost effectiveness of loneliness initiatives and improve health and wellbeing, we urge government to reverse reductions to councils’ public health budgets and plug the funding gap facing adult social care which is set to exceed more than £3.5 billion by 2025. The Chancellor has the opportunity to begin this on the 29 October, where we hope he will build on the positive steps announced today. ”

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