The devastating impact loneliness can have on our mental and physical health makes it an issue we simply cannot ignore. For a growing number of older people, loneliness defines and shatters their lives.
But loneliness is also a deeply personal experience– unique to every individual; a problem with different causes and consequences for every one of us. This is what makes addressing loneliness so complex. And despite a wide and growing recognition of the substantial public health implications of loneliness and the urgent need to take action, there is a significant knowledge gap among funders and commissioners about what really works in addressing it.
Promising approaches to reducing loneliness and isolation in later life, a report produced jointly by Age UK and The Campaign to End Loneliness, seeks to fill that knowledge gap and to offer some practical answers to that big question, what works in tackling loneliness?
Drawing on the expertise and experience of leading figures in the field as well as academic research, the report aims to identify the most promising approaches to tackling the problem. It showcases a range of projects and examples from around the country, demonstrating the many, varied solutions needed for an effective response to a very personal problem.
Crucially, the report argues that commissioners must recognise the complex and individual experience of loneliness and should not seek a ‘one size fits all solution’. In fact, it should be the ambition of every local authority to ensure access to a full menu of interventions that help those who are lonely and to recognise the role many different types of services can play in responding to the issue.
A new framework to tackle loneliness
The report puts forward a new framework featuring four distinct categories of loneliness intervention that could be put in place to provide a comprehensive local system of services to prevent and alleviate loneliness:
- Foundation Services that reach lonely individuals and understand their specific circumstances to help them find the right support, such as Springboard, a partnership between Age UK Cheshire and Cheshire Fire and Rescue Services (CFRS) that uses advanced data sharing to target home visits to older people by CFRS staff, who act as a gateway to a range of early intervention and support activity.
- Gateway Services like transport and technology that act as the glue that keeps people active and engaged, and makes it possible for communities to come together, such as Age UK Kensington and Chelsea’s shopping service enables older residents of the borough who are unable to use public transport to do their shopping, while also providing an opportunity to socialise.
- Direct Interventions that maintain existing relationships and enable new connections – either group-based or one-to-one support, as well as emotional support services, such as Touchstones, led by Rural Action Yorkshire, set up to support bereaved older people to access and learn new practical skills for day-to-day living, and to provide opportunities for older people to get involved in their community through volunteering
- In developing these services, commissioners should consider what structural supports (termed Structural Enablers) are needed in their communities to create the right conditions for ending loneliness, such as volunteering, positive ageing and neighbourhood approaches. LinkAge Bristol, for example, is a local charity that works with people aged 55+ and local communities to facilitate inspiring social activities that enrich lives, reduce isolation and loneliness and promote active participation and positive ageing.
This report is especially relevant to commissioners, funders and deliverers of services that support older people – it will help you to identify the areas of need in your communities, and support you as service providers, in the delivery of more effective loneliness interventions. We will be working closely with local authorities to support them in strengthening their networks with their partners across the community to put the guide’s recommendations into action.
This article has had one comment
Not read the report fully but your report seems to be more concerned with top down support and ‘doing things’ for people instead of an ongoing dialogue about, radically, exploring some contemporary and more inclusive egalitarian options. One area with which I’m, not very successfully, involved is to barter one’s life and trade skills to continue to make a contribution, possibly on an honorarium basis but more essentially that one’s contribution is valued and welcomed, in continuing to work more flexibly with statutory bodies. I used to be a community/social worker and community social worker but community development theory and practice seems to have been completely forgotten in this day and age. But these and many other hard earned attributes enable, facilitate and justify that one’s years of experience can and should be taken on board by local authorities, statutory bodies; and even the third sector in ways which are recognised in a complementary and positive way. Again, my experience since retiring has been to become a trustee with a number of NGO’s but one’s overall background is simply dismissed, ignored and unrecognised as one is steered towards secretarial, director, trustee and fund-raising tasks. The situation is even worse with statutory bodies and although I am an, unpaid, member of a Partnership Group designed to turn the vast bureaucracy around there is, as yet, little or no evidence of how one’s years of experience can be well used to make a public and effective contribution. Rather the situation is that one is seen as peripheral, over-charitable and treated in a ‘tokenish’ manner. With no understanding whatsover of one’s community development skills which include pro-active networking, demonstrating how to devolve power to one’s peers, identifying and working with key and natural workers whilst, essentially, working from the grass-roots upwards. Through action-research and drawing upon everything from a wide knowledge of social and community-based co-operative enterprises, including rethought-through credit unions/community banks, Bromley-by-Bow type health clinics through to Family Conference groups and the ABCD of Asset Based Community Development.
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