Two years ago last week I wrote my blog about the shocking murder of MP Jo Cox. As the anniversary of her death came around again on June 16th, along with continued outrage at that senseless waste of life and sadness at the loss of a mother, sister, wife and one of the brightest stars in politics, was also a sense that out of this tragedy is coming something enduringly positive.
Loneliness is a blight on our society. It does not discriminate by age, geography or status and evidence suggests that those experiencing loneliness are more likely to suffer from long-term health problems such as dementia, heart disease and depression. The health impact is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Identifying those who are lonely or at risk of loneliness can be hard but it is often triggered by what the experts call ‘key life transitions’, such as loss of mobility, taking on or stopping caring duties, bereavement, separation, retirement, becoming a parent or unemployment. According to research, over 9 million of us report feeling always or often lonely which is a staggering statistic and one which should concern us all.
Thanks to the Jo Cox Foundation, thousands of people across the country joined in the Great Get Together last weekend, meeting up with neighbours and building those community connections that demonstrate the truth of Jo’s belief that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us.
Since the start of this year, the Government has committed to almost all of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness’s calls to action. These include the appointment last January of a dedicated Minister for Loneliness and work on a coordinated loneliness strategy for England. There is now an All Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness and a Loneliness Action Group, led by the British Red Cross and the Co-op, both of which are working closely with the Government to ensure that these commitments are met.
And last week saw the announcement of new funding to help tackle loneliness. A total of £20 million is available with grants going to programmes that not only bring people together but which are proving to be of benefit to their communities, doing work such as opening up local spaces for community use, helping businesses and local services combat isolation, using technology to link those in remote areas and helping improve transport connections. I know that there are many such initiatives in West Berkshire. Applications open next month so please help me spread the word to ensure that charities and groups here may benefit from this opportunity. I have taken on an intern for a short time who is investigating all the good work being done locally to address loneliness and to suggest to me ways in which we can work better together to address this growing problem.