Eleven leading charities and organisations have come together to call on the First Minister to ensure that Scotland becomes the world leader in tackling loneliness and isolation.

The new Action Group on Isolation & Loneliness in Scotland (AGIL), is made up of Age Scotland, Befriending Networks, British Red Cross, Campaign to End Loneliness in Scotland, Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland, Community Transport, Contact the Elderly, Eden Project Communities, Health in Mind, Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded.

It is now three years since the landmark Scottish Parliament’s Equalities Committee report which called on the Scottish Government to develop a Loneliness Strategy. Two weeks ago the UK Government published its Loneliness Strategy with over 55 commitments and a new multi-million-pound fund.  This week the Welsh Government launched a comprehensive consultation that has the third sector at the centre of its development process.

Loneliness kills and is a public health crisis. It is as dangerous to a person’s health if you are single, living alone and lack social connections as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Chronic loneliness affects mental and physical health, from increased risks of depression, anxiety and dementia, to increased risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. It is estimated that loneliness costs the NHS £12,000 per person affected.

The group has made six specific asks of the First Minister ahead of the publication of Scottish Government’s strategy to tackle loneliness and social isolation, due by the end of the year. AGIL are calling for bold and demonstrate leadership in order for Scotland to become the world leader in successfully tackling loneliness and social isolation. AGIL says the Scottish Government must  invest resources and political capital into it.

Anne Callaghan, Campaign Manager in Scotland for the Campaign to End Loneliness, said:

“Loneliness is still one of society’s great stigmas and affects all ages. We all have a part to play in combatting it as individuals, in our communities, businesses and wider civil society. It must become easier for people to make quality connections in their everyday lives and the Scottish Government has the leadership role in delivering the conditions for this to flourish. We recognise success won’t be achieved by government intervention alone. However, for it to be a success there must be strong leadership and direction from the very top of the Scottish Government, harnessing and enabling the positive impact that can be made by the third sector, business and across society.”

Brian Sloan, Chief Executive of Age Scotland, said:

“The steps the Scottish Government has already taken to address this issue are positive, but it now needs to become a top priority of the First Minister. The Scottish draft strategy to tackle loneliness may have been the first of its kind, but since then other countries have overtaken us. The negative impact that loneliness and social isolation is having on the lives of people in Scotland is acute and is approaching epidemic levels.

“Loneliness does not discriminate by age, gender, community, background or wealth, but we know that older people are most likely to be affected. Right now there are 100,000 older people who feel lonely all or most of the time and double that number go at least half a week without as much as a conversation with anyone. Now is the time for Scotland to be bold in its approach.”

Marie Hayes, Director for Independent Living and Crisis Response (Scotland) with the British Red Cross, said:

“The Scottish Government needs to be ambitious to deliver real change that will make a difference to lonely people’s lives. Given the impact that loneliness has on people’s health and wellbeing, we would support a national approach which would consider the impact of legislation and policies on loneliness – the task will be a large one but without a stepped up coordinated approach Scotland will be failing some of its most vulnerable people.”

The six asks of the First Minister are:

1. A cross-government approach delivered through the establishment of a Loneliness task force, with identified Cabinet Secretary lead and cross-sector membership.

2. The urgent evaluation of relevant existing and future legislation to ensure the impact of policies on loneliness and isolation is considered as part of the legislative process.

3. Future-proof Scotland. Seek ways to make demonstrable improvements to planning systems, housing, health and community policies to ensure Scotland is ready to respond to the significant challenges loneliness presents to our population, which will only be compounded as the aging population grows.

4. Monitor trends and report back on progress to the Scottish Parliament annually.

5. Ensure there is a strategic tackling loneliness fund, which provides adequate resources to communities to build and sustain connected communities in a manner, building where appropriate on what has gone before, which prevents loneliness and the severe negative health impacts that it can lead to.

6. The First Minister should convene a special meeting of business leaders to help kick-start ideas about the role that they can play in tackling loneliness from both a customer and employer perspective.