Regular readers of this blog will probably now be familiar with the message the loneliness is bad for our health. It can directly harm our physical health and can also make us more likely to engage in the kind of behaviours that are bad for us. Lonely people are more likely to exercise less, eat less healthily and are more disposed to smoke and drink heavily.
So it is therefore not surprising that the authorities responsible for supporting us when we are ill – the providers of health and social care – begin to wonder what loneliness is costing us. This may seem like a hard-headed way to think about an issue as personal and emotive as loneliness, but we know from talking to those who commission local services that shrinking budgets mean that financial costs of the issues that affect us are very much on their minds.
The Campaign to End Loneliness recently undertook a brief research project to discover what is already known about the cost of loneliness. We wanted to understand better what was already known, so that we could help commissioners to see the potential benefits of services and activities that tackle loneliness, and help service providers to make the case for their work.
Disappointingly, we found that to date relatively little has been done to calculate the impact of loneliness on health and care services. Many providers have made efforts to demonstrate the impact of their services on reducing loneliness, or increasing wellbeing – but few attempt to make a financial argument for what they do. However, as we outline in our scoping report, this is starting to change, with interesting projects getting underway in different parts of the country.
For example, Social Finance have been working with Worcestershire County Council to develop a model for analysing the financial costs of loneliness in the county, and are now working towards developing a social impact bond to pay for new services. This work has attempted to put a monetary value on reducing an individual’s loneliness, and Social Finance hope that this work could be applicable in other areas
What is clear is that there is plenty of room for more work in this area and this is something the Campaign will continue to look into over the coming months.
If you have made an attempt to evaluate the costs or benefits of a loneliness service please do let us know.
Our initial scoping report into the cost of loneliness can be downloaded here.