New local measures needed to tackle ‘loneliness emergency’, says parliamentary group
Additional investment to provide improve social spaces, help close the digital divide and increased funding for local charities would help encourage people to reconnect once lockdown ends, the group suggests.
A group of MPs and peers have suggested that the Government needs to invest in more local services and charities to tackle the widespread loneliness that has emerged as a result of the pandemic.
The cross-party parliamentary group want ministers to do more to bridge the digital gap within society, ensure that new housing developments are built to allow for more social interaction amongst residents and provide additional funding for charities and voluntary organisations to help “the lonely and cut-off”.
More benches, public toilets and additional street lighting would also help encourage those suffering with loneliness to begin socially mixing again once lockdown restrictions end, the group say.
The proposals follow a recent survey undertaken by the British Red Cross that found that over a third (35%) of people say that they now feel less connected to their communities than before the pandemic, whilst almost 4 in 10 people fear that they will still remain cut off even after restrictions are lifted.
In addition, a separate poll of 2,000 people conducted by Opinium found nearly a third were worried about forming social bonds in the same way they did before the pandemic.
The parliamentary group says that the pandemic has created a “loneliness emergency” where direct contact has been restricted by the imposition of social distancing and household mixing rules over the course of the past year.
The Government needs to ensure that the country has a “connected recovery”, say the group.
Conservative MP and chair of the parliamentary group Neil O’Brien said that the pandemic had shed light on the importance of social connections within society.
“No matter where you live, neighbours and other quality connections – including those on the internet – have mattered,” said O’Brien.
“This means [we need] more public toilets, better street lighting, ramps and quiet safe spaces, so that everyone from all ages and all backgrounds has the facilities they need in order to make valuable friendships in their area,” O’Brien added.
Zoë Abrams, Executive Director of Communications and Advocacy at the British Red Cross said that loneliness could manifest in individuals for a variety of reasons and that small local changes would make a difference.
“Life transitions that we know can lead to loneliness, such as poor physical and mental health, losing a job or losing a loved one,” said Abrams.
“We know from our 150 years of responding to emergencies that people who are more connected socially are better able to cope with, and recover from, crises.
“A lack of a good bus service, free public toilets, parks and gardens, baby-changing facilities or accessibility adaptations can put up barriers that prevent people from connecting with others in person,” Abrams concluded.
A spokesperson for the Government said the UK was “leading the way in tackling the issue of loneliness” and highlighted the £31.5 million invested into organisations that support lonely people.
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