A minister for loneliness has been appointed to help tackle the misery endured by around nine million Britons.
Theresa May has backed a series of recommendations made by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, which highlighted how widespread the problem is.
Cox, who was brutally murdered by a far-right terrorist, campaigned across the political divide before her death to find ways to combat loneliness.
As well as announcing Tracey Crouch will become the minister responsible for the issue, the Prime Minister said a cross-government strategy to find ways to stop people feeling lonely will be published later this year.
On Wednesday, May will host a Downing Street reception to celebrate Cox’s legacy.
Ahead of the event, she 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.
“Jo Cox recognised the scale of loneliness across the country and dedicated herself to doing all she could to help those affected.
“So I am pleased that Government can build on her legacy with a ministerial lead for loneliness who will work with the Commission, businesses and charities to shine a light on the issue and pull together all strands of Government to create the first ever strategy.
“We should all do everything we can to see that, in Jo’s memory, we bring an end to the acceptance of loneliness for good.”
More than 9 million people always or often feel lonely
Around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month
Up to 85% of young disabled adults – 18-34 year olds – feel lonely
Jo Cox’s husband, Brendan, welcomed the appointment, tweeting: “Great to see this leadership.
“Appointing a minister might not sound like much, but in tackling a complex crisis like loneliness that cuts across departments it will provide much needed leadership and accountability.
“Good luck Tracey Crouch, Jo would be over the moon.”
The Office for National Statistics will help to devise a method of measuring loneliness and a fund will be set up to allow Government and charities to find innovative ways to deal with the problem across all ages, backgrounds and communities.
Crouch said she was “privileged to be taking forward the remarkable work done by Jo Cox”.
“I am sure that with the support of volunteers, campaigners, businesses and my fellow MPs from all sides of the House, we can make significant progress in defeating loneliness,” she said.
“This is an issue that Jo cared passionately about and we will honour her memory by tackling it, helping the millions of people across the UK who suffer from loneliness.”
A study by The Co-op and the British Red Cross showed more than nine million people always or often feel lonely, while Age UK found 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month and Scope said up to 85% of young disabled adults feel lonely.
Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate Jo Cox
The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, chaired by Labour’s Rachel Reeves and Conservative Seema Kennedy, worked with 13 charities over the last year to help find solutions to the problem.
Reeves and Kennedy said: “We are really pleased to see that the Government is taking the issue of loneliness very seriously with its prompt response to our report. Jo Cox said that ‘young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate’.
“Throughout 2017 we have heard from new parents, children, disabled people, carers, refugees and older people about their experience of loneliness.
“We very much welcome that Government has accepted the Commission’s recommendations including the appointment of a new ministerial lead who will have the responsibility for creating a national strategy to tackle loneliness.”
Mark Robinson, Chief Officer of Age UK Barnet was blunt in his assessment of the impacts of loneliness saying that it “can kill”.
“It’s proven to be worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, but it can be overcome and needn’t be a factor in older people’s lives.
“Age UK provide a wide variety of services and we welcome the work that the government is doing to support lonely people in communities throughout the country.”
As well as Couch’s appointment May said work had also begun on a number of other initiatives to tackle loneliness, these included:
Developing a cross-government strategy on loneliness in England to be published later this year. This will bring together government, local government, public services, the voluntary and community sector and businesses to identify opportunities to tackle loneliness, and build more integrated and resilient communities
Developing the evidence-base around the impact of different initiatives in tackling loneliness, across all ages and within all communities, led by the government’s What Works centres
Establishing appropriate indicators of loneliness across all ages with the Office for National Statistics so these figures can be included in major research studies
A dedicated fund which will see government working with charitable trusts, foundations, and others to:
Stimulate innovative solutions to loneliness across all ages, backgrounds and communities
Provide seed funding for communities to come together to develop activities which enable people to connect
Scale-up and spread existing work offering practical and emotional support to help lonely individuals reconnect with their communities