Prime Minister Theresa May recently announced the appointment of Conservative MP Tracey Crouch as the new ‘Minister for Loneliness’. The new role comes in result of a report on loneliness conducted by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, which revealed that over 9 million adults in Britain are affected by loneliness. The cross-party project was started by late Labour MP Jo Cox and continued by Labour’s Rachel Reeves and the Conservatives’ Seema Kennedy, following Cox’s murder by a far-right terrorist in June 2016.
The Foundation saw thirteen charities and businesses involved with some of the most isolated groups in society come together with MPs to develop detailed recommendations for the Government on how to tackle loneliness. These recommendations include devising a ‘national indicator’ of loneliness, producing yearly reports on loneliness, providing funding for communities, and, of course, nominating a Minister to lead the charge in creating a national strategy to combat the problem of loneliness. In her announcement, the Prime Minister said, “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life. I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones – people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”
On the surface, this sounds like a wonderful idea. Loneliness is undoubtedly a serious problem for people of all ages: a 2015 study conducted by researchers from Brigham Young University in the U.S. found that living alone or feeling lonely raises the likelihood of premature death by around 30%. However, Theresa May and her government have a notoriously shaky track record when it comes to dealing with mental health issues. Despite the Prime Minister’s promise to “transform mental health services”, the BBC reported last April that mental health care funding in England had been cut by £4.5 million. Additionally, funding for public libraries has fallen an astounding £66 million in the last four years, which has seen the closure of over 100 libraries across Britain. With libraries being one of the precious few social spaces still free to access, it is safe to say that such closures have contributed to feelings of isolation amongst the public. It is easy to see why some are sceptical about the new role – the Government will have to put its money where its mouth is in order to affect significant change.
Is having a Minister for Loneliness a nice concept? Of course. Is the position a fitting tribute to Jo Cox’s legacy? Absolutely. Will it actually have any effect on the lives of lonely and isolated people in Britain? Only time will tell.
[Rebecca Rae – @rae_rebecca]