Tackling loneliness matters to everyone: individuals, employers, communities, educators and health professionals. Supporting people to have meaningful social relationships is not just crucial to people’s physical and mental health. It also affects their engagement in the workplace and wider community cohesion. We all need to take action to tackle loneliness across society, and government can play an important role supporting this.
‘A connected society: a strategy for tackling loneliness – laying the foundations for change’, published on 15 October 2018, is the first strategy for tackling loneliness in England. It marks a shift in the way we see and act on loneliness, both within government and across society. It builds on years of work by many individuals and organisations, and acts as government’s first major contribution to the national conversation on loneliness and the importance of social connections. This strategy is an important first step, but government is also committed to long-lasting action to tackle the problem of loneliness.
In January 2018 the Government announced a programme of work on tackling loneliness. The Prime Minister welcomed the work of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, which had carried forward the good work started by the late Jo Cox MP.
The government’s strategy, published in October 2018, sets out commitments from 9 departments, as well as commitments to work with businesses, employers, local authorities, health and the voluntary sector. This includes:
- supporting all local health and care systems to implement social prescribing connector schemes across the country by 2023: encouraging health and social care professionals to refer patients to nearby support programmes that inspire friendships and reduce feelings of loneliness
- building a network of employers to take action on loneliness: an Employer Pledge promise from businesses and other organisations to provide help and support to lonely employees. 21 organisations have signed up so far, including: Sainsbury’s, Transport for London, British Red Cross, National Grid and the UK Government Civil Service
- increasing the number of spaces for community use: working with local groups to pilot ways to utilise space – including an additional £1.8m of funding to test how community spaces can support social connections
- extending ministerial portfolios to include loneliness: ministers at the Department for Transport, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Ministry for Housing, Community and Local Government will now tackle loneliness – this builds on the Department for Health and Social Care and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport portfolios which already include loneliness
- working in partnership with Royal Mail to trial ‘Safe and Connected’: this is an innovative digital pilot which enables postal workers in Liverpool, Whitby and New Malden in Kingston-upon-Thames to call in on lonely older people who live on their usual delivery rounds and sign up to participate. After the responses are assessed, clients will be directed to friends, family, neighbours or local support services for further help
The government’s strategy also takes action on the remainder of the Jo Cox Commission’s recommendations:
- on the recommendation for a policy test: the strategy requires government departments to report on their work on tackling loneliness in their annual Single Departmental Plans from 2019/20 and commits to including loneliness in the guidance for the Family Test. Government will also explore further ways to embed consideration of loneliness in wide policy-making
- on a communications campaign: the strategy commits to a campaign to explore how best to drive awareness of the importance of social wellbeing and how we can encourage people to take action through easy-to-understand messages and information. Government will also explicitly include social connectedness in Public Health England’s forthcoming communications campaign on mental health
- on an annual report: the strategy commits to the ministerial group on loneliness publishing an annual report on progress
The Building Connections Fund
The £11.5 million Building Connections Fund is a partnership between government, The National Lottery Community Fund (formerly known as the Big Lottery Fund) and the Co-op Foundation, which was set up in response to the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness to support projects that prevent or reduce loneliness. The purpose of the Fund is to help individuals, communities and local services connect in a variety of ways and consolidate learning that can support future policy and funding decisions. The Fund will specifically support projects that already are, or with additional support, could tackle loneliness.
The fund objectives are to:
- Reduce and/or prevent loneliness and help people feel more connected
- Scale up or join up with other local provisions with the aim of reaching more people and improving the system wide offer; and
- Improve the evidence base and use learning to inform longer term policy and funding decisions. The overall aims of the fund are to help people feel more connected and less lonely.
Loneliness cross-Government team
The team includes representatives from Government departments contributing to the work, and supporting the Cross Government Ministerial Group on Loneliness:
- Chair: Baroness Barran MBE (Minister for Civil Society and DCMS)
- Victoria Atkins MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability)
- Caroline Dinenage MP (Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Care)
- Lord Gardiner (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity)
- Baroness Vere (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Transport)
- Nick Gibb MP (Minister of State for Schools)
- Justin Tomlinson (Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work)
- Rishi Sunak MP (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government)
- Kelly Tolhurst MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility)
- developing a cross-government strategy on loneliness in England, published on 15th October 2018
- developing the evidence base around the impact of different initiatives in tackling loneliness, across all ages and within all communities. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing were commissioned and have published a review of evidence on effective interventions and programmes to tackle loneliness
- establishing appropriate indicators of loneliness across all ages, with the Office for National Statistics. Testing and continually developing these.
- creation and overall delivery of the £11.5million Building Connections Fund (Main Strand and Youth Strand.) Publishing evaluation reports of this to continue to build the evidence base.
- continuing the cross-government work on loneliness, including policy development and implementation, and producing an annual report
We are grateful to many partners and organisations for their help in developing our thinking so far, including:
- The Jo Cox Foundation
- Campaign to End Loneliness
- British Red Cross
- Members of the Technical Advisory Group (experts from academia, service providers, funders and other government departments)
- Members of the Loneliness Action Group (40 national bodies working on loneliness)
- The All Party Parliamentary Group on loneliness
- The National Lottery Community Fund
- University of Bath
- UCL Business School
Other funding for loneliness projects
There is an array of work taking place that will also contribute to tackling loneliness:
The People’s Health Trust’s Active Communities programme
This programme will distribute £4 million from the Health Lottery to support charities and community groups in bringing people together. Applications have now closed for all areas except for the North West.
GovTech Catalyst Fund
GovTech Catalyst supports the public sector in finding innovative solutions to complex challenges. Applications for the challenge on combating rural isolation with technology have now closed. Funding will be awarded to successful projects to develop technologies that connect young people and older adults to combat digital exclusion and a lack of access to transport in rural communities in South Wales.
Dream Fund: £1 million charity funding available for inspiring projects tackling loneliness epidemic
The Players of People’s Postcode Lottery are contributing £5 million to the Government’s Building Communities Fund to help tackle loneliness and foster meaningful connections. The money from our players will go to our existing charities to bolster their good work in building communities and breaking down loneliness. The Postcode Dream Fund is part of this initiative and will give good causes the chance to work together to deliver a project they have always dreamed of, but never had the opportunity to bring to life. The application process for the Dream Fund has now closed and the winner will be announced early in 2019.
Space to Connect Fund: £1.6 million funding available to help maximise spaces and build connections
The Space to Connect Fund is a £1.6 million partnership between Co-op Foundation and government. This fund will support organisations to explore ways to use spaces in their community to address local challenges or expand activities in spaces so they become more financially sustainable in the long-term. Organisations will be able to expand activities in spaces to make them more sustainable, or explore ways to make better use of spaces to address challenges, like loneliness and access to services. For more information on Space to Connect, visit The Co-op Foundation Website.
Tech to Connect
DCMS have granted £1m to Nesta to run a Challenge Prize from April 2019 to March 2020. The Challenge Prize aims to stimulate tech innovation in civil society organisations by challenging charities, social ventures and social enterprises to design solutions to specific problems. Nesta will provide business support and cash funding to social sector organisations as part of the Challenge Prize process. This prize is focused on tackling social isolation. For more information on Tech to Connect, visit the website here.