Today the Campaign to End Loneliness launches the results of a review into 152 health and wellbeing boards across England, which was designed to identify any early progress being made to combat loneliness in older age.

Following the establishment of the health and wellbeing boards in April 2012, we launched Loneliness Harms Health, a campaign that supports people to lobby their local board to commit to tackling loneliness through their Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy (JHWS).

We read every published Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy, a total of 128 documents, and ranked each one as Gold, Silver or Bronze standard depending on the level of commitment made to tackle loneliness. If there is no recognition that loneliness is an issue for older people, it was awarded ‘no place’.

This was then gathered and analysed by Charities Evaluation Services, who conducted further research as part of a three-year impact evaluation of the work of the Campaign to End Loneliness, funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The results contained a mix of good and bad news:

  • 61 of the 128 JHWSs indicated that the local boards had at least acknowledged that loneliness or isolation was a serious issue for their population.
  • 8 of these 61 boards were considered to be ‘gold’ standardas they commit to measurable actions and/or targets to address loneliness in older age or for all ages
  • But we also found that 67 areas – over half of all health and wellbeing boards with a published strategy – are ignoring the health risks of loneliness, as their strategy contains no commitment to measuring or prioritising the issue.
  • A further 24 boards have not yet published their strategy, so this number may eventually be higher.

Laura Ferguson, director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, has responded to these findings:

“We are dismayed that 67 areas have chosen not to prioritise loneliness or isolation. I question whether these decisions were made based on evidence to show that loneliness is not an issue in those areas.

All health and wellbeing boards must at least measure loneliness and isolation so that they understand the urgency of the issue for people living in their area and can plan to tackle loneliness based on local needs.”

Why should health and wellbeing boards be taking action?

The Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy (JHWS) is a strategic plan for addressing health, public health and social care needs in a particular area, and has to identify priority issues that need the most attention from the council and local NHS.

It can have a significant influence on the future of local services as it makes recommendations, on behalf of the health and wellbeing board, for how resources and money should be allocated in a local area. So, we strongly believe that loneliness and isolation should be prioritised in these strategies to make sure services and activities that keep people connected are protected.

What can I do?

You can ask your local board to take loneliness, and its effects to both emotional and physical health, seriously. We’ve created templates, tips and facts that you can use to take action, for example:

  • A letter to send your local newspaper to make sure people are aware of on the health risks of loneliness
  • Statistics to help you inform other local charities and community groups  about the need to campaign
  • A template to help you ask your health and wellbeing board to make loneliness a priority in their Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy

For inspiration

It’s been over a year since we launched our Loneliness Harms Health campaign and we’re delighted that, all over England, people have been contacting senior health and care decision makers and asking them to help tackle loneliness.

We know that a good number of the 61 boards who were found to be committed to tackling loneliness have listened to the voices of these local people – as well as attending our events and reading the wealth of evidence that supports the case for action.

We’ve decided to celebrate a few of these achievements in an update: Loneliness Harms Health – One Year On. Take a look for stories from Cornwall, Essex, Blackburn with Darwen and Thurrock to name a few.

So take a look at the detailed information…

  • A three page  introduction to our research and Loneliness Harms Health case studies – an overview of the work and progress
  • The report from Charities Evaluation Services: Health and wellbeing boards’ uptake of Campaign messages – the full results of the health and wellbeing board research can be found in this
  • Success stories from Loneliness Harms HealthOne Year On – why not use these to encourage others to campaign with you?