The right time to talk about loneliness

Jo Cox logo campaignChristmas is just around the corner. It is an important opportunity for family and friends to come together and for people to relax.

For many, that means family members from far and wide returning home and sharing their experiences over the last 12 months. For others it may be a difficult time of year. It may be a time for remembering a loved one who has passed away recently or experiencing the loneliness that can come from being alone at this important time of year.

The recent loneliness summit I hosted in the constituency showed that, while it is an important issue throughout the year and touches people across all age groups. Times like Christmas can be particularly challenging.

Loneliness is a hidden issue that is increasingly being brought into the daylight. It can affect anyone – an elderly person living alone, or a young person who feels invisible.

Loneliness is found in isolated communities that exist in our crowded cities as much as they do in rural areas. It is also found in overcrowded houses of multiple occupation where people who may have little in common are living side by side but rarely talk to each other. It is found in the crowded school playground and on the streets we walk along each day.

Loneliness is sometimes defined as the gap between the relationships you have and the relationships you want. It is certainly linked to deprivation, and people who have experienced it speak of a sense of shame, embarrassment, even stigma that sits alongside the desperate, aching emotional pain.

New evidence points to the impact loneliness has on our physical health as well as our emotional and mental health, and we are beginning to understand how the cost of loneliness to individuals impacts also on our communities, and economy.

In short, loneliness is a major challenge for the 21st century.

That is why, earlier this year, I brought together individuals and organisations that are deeply involved in our communities to get an idea of what the big issues are, what people are doing already and, crucially, what people think we can do together in the future.

I was delighted by the response. Over 30 people, including people affected by loneliness directly and others including local councillors, health workers, social care staff, mental health charities, housing associations, faith bodies, student unions and the police with an interest in making a difference, contributed on the day.

I was particularly delighted that the Shadow Secretary of State for Health Jonathan Ashworth agreed to open the discussions and present new evidence about the cuts to public health budgets across the country that are increasing pressure on the community support and resilience we need to tackle loneliness.

You can read a summary of the lively discussions that took place and our ideas about what we can all do to break down social isolation, celebrate diversity and make our communities and workplaces happier places to live, work and play in the summit report by clicking here

Thank to everyone who came and on the day and for your hard work and willingness to share your experiences and ideas, which are reflected on the pages that follow.

I want, also, to say a particular thank you to the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness who provided the inspiration for the day. Of course, Jo Cox was a colleague of mine who was murdered in Batley and Spen constituency going about her work to support the local community.

Tackling loneliness was one of Jo’s passions. The work of the commission over the past year serves as one small contribution to her memory and which I know will make a difference to how our country contends with this very serious issue.