Tackling loneliness matters to everyone - to individuals, employers, communities, educators and to health professionals. Supporting people to have meaningful social relationships is not just crucial to people’s physical and mental health. It also affects their engagement in the workplace and wider community cohesion. We all need to take action to tackle loneliness across society, and government can play an important role supporting this.
‘A connected society: a strategy for tackling loneliness - laying the foundations for change’, published on 15 October 2018, is the first strategy for tackling loneliness in England. It marks a shift in the way we see and act on loneliness, both within government and across society. It builds on years of work by many individuals and organisations, and acts as government’s first major contribution to the national conversation on loneliness and the importance of social connections. This strategy is an important first step, but government is also committed to long-lasting action to tackle the problem of loneliness.
In January 2018 the Government announced a programme of work on tackling loneliness. The Prime Minister welcomed the work of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, which had carried forward the good work started by the late Jo Cox MP.
The government’s strategy, published in October 2018, sets out commitments from 9 departments, as well as commitments to work with businesses, employers, local authorities, health and the voluntary sector. This includes:
- supporting all local health and care systems to implement social prescribing connector schemes across the country by 2023: encouraging health and social care professionals to refer patients to nearby support programmes that inspire friendships and reduce feelings of loneliness
- building a network of employers to take action on loneliness: an Employer Pledge promise from businesses and other organisations to provide help and support to lonely employees. 21 organisations have signed up so far, including: Sainsbury’s, Transport for London, British Red Cross, National Grid and the UK Government Civil Service
- increasing the number of spaces for community use: working with local groups to pilot ways to utilise space - including an additional £1.8m of funding to test how community spaces can support social connections
- extending ministerial portfolios to include loneliness: ministers at the Department for Transport, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Ministry for Housing, Community and Local Government will now tackle loneliness - this builds on the Department for Health and Social Care and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport portfolios which already include loneliness
- working in partnership with Royal Mail to trial ‘Safe and Connected’: this is an innovative digital pilot which enables postal workers in Liverpool, Whitby and New Malden in Kingston-upon-Thames to call in on lonely older people who live on their usual delivery rounds and sign up to participate. After the responses are assessed, clients will be directed to friends, family, neighbours or local support services for further help
The government’s strategy also takes action on the remainder of the Jo Cox Commission’s recommendations:
- on the recommendation for a policy test: the strategy requires government departments to report on their work on tackling loneliness in their annual Single Departmental Plans from 2019/20 and commits to including loneliness in the guidance for the Family Test. Government will also explore further ways to embed consideration of loneliness in wide policy-making
- on a communications campaign: the strategy commits to a campaign to explore how best to drive awareness of the importance of social wellbeing and how we can encourage people to take action through easy-to-understand messages and information. Government will also explicitly include social connectedness in Public Health England’s forthcoming communications campaign on mental health
- on an annual report: the strategy commits to the ministerial group on loneliness publishing an annual report on progress
The Building Connections Fund
The £11.5 million Building Connections Fund is a partnership between government, Big Lottery Fund and the Co-op Foundation, which was set up in response to the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness to support projects that prevent or reduce loneliness. This will largely focus on funding a range of existing projects that are already helping to build connections to prevent and/or reduce loneliness. There is also a youth strand that will fund projects aiming to help young people avoid long-term loneliness. These were launched in summer 2018 and award decisions will be announced in late 2018.
The fund aims to:
- increase social connections, helping people form strong and meaningful relationships and creating a sense of community and belonging, and helping people feel more connected
- support organisations to build on their existing work, for example, by reaching more people, or working in a new area or with a different method or group of people
- encourage organisations to join up with others locally
- improve the evidence base and use learning to inform longer term policy and funding decisions
Loneliness cross-Government team
The team includes representatives from Government departments contributing to the work, and supporting the Cross Government Ministerial Group on Loneliness:
- developing a cross-government strategy on loneliness in England, published on 15th October 2018
- developing the evidence base around the impact of different initiatives in tackling loneliness, across all ages and within all communities. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing were commissioned and have published a review of evidence on effective interventions and programmes to tackle loneliness
- establishing appropriate indicators of loneliness across all ages, with the Office for National Statistics
- creation and overall delivery of the £11.5million Building Connections Fund (Main Strand and Youth Strand)
- continuing the cross-government work on loneliness, including policy development and implementation, and producing an annual report
We are grateful to many partners and organisations for their help in developing our thinking so far, including:
Other funding for loneliness projects
There is an array of work taking place that will also contribute to tackling loneliness:
The People’s Health Trust’s Active Communities programme
This programme will distribute £4 million from the Health Lottery to support charities and community groups in bringing people together. Applications have now closed for all areas except for the North West.
GovTech Catalyst Fund
GovTech Catalyst supports the public sector in finding innovative solutions to complex challenges. Applications for the challenge on combating rural isolation with technology have now closed. Funding will be awarded to successful projects to develop technologies that connect young people and older adults to combat digital exclusion and a lack of access to transport in rural communities in South Wales.
Dream Fund: £1 million charity funding available for inspiring project tackling loneliness epidemic
The Players of People’s Postcode Lottery are contributing £5 million to the Government’s Building Communities Fund to help tackle loneliness and foster meaningful connections. The money from our players will go to our existing charities to bolster their good work in building communities and breaking down loneliness. The Postcode Dream Fund is part of this initiative and will give good causes the chance to work together to deliver a project they have always dreamed of, but never had the opportunity to bring to life. The application process for the Dream Fund has now closed and the winner will be announced early in 2019.