In recent years it has been refreshing to see senior figures from across the health and social care sector recognise the impact that loneliness can have on our mental and physical health, and admit that it is a serious and growing public health issue. In 2014 Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP warned that loneliness is “a national shame” that is “as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day”, whilst only in January this year, Public Health England’s Professor Kevin Fenton, insisted that loneliness is “an issue we can ill-afford to ignore.”
An increasing recognition of the harmful health effects of loneliness can also be seen at a local level; well over 50% of health and wellbeing boards have now acknowledged that loneliness is something that must be addressed at a strategic level.
At the Campaign we are determined to see this widespread commitment and good-will turned into real, tangible action on the ground, which will have a positive impact on the lives of those affected by or at risk of loneliness in later life.
This is why we’re excited to be launching our new guidance, offering local authorities and commissioners practical support on reducing loneliness and isolation locally. The guidance takes users through four key sections:
Our new guidance sets out step-by-step support to Adult Social Care, Clinical Commissioners and Public Health teams for developing loneliness reduction strategies. It explains how to gather information, for example by using Essex County Council’s loneliness maps, and how to build strong partnerships with a range of stakeholders from across the public, community and voluntary and private sector.
We recognise that resources are limited and we encourage Councils to use existing resources to help address the challenges of loneliness through an Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach. This involves utilising local assets such as people’s time, social connections, under-used buildings (even in the private sector), land, minibuses, and library space.
Meeting the complex needs of older people experiencing loneliness requires a wide range of approaches and input from a vast array of stakeholders. From providing community transport and befriending, to ensuring buildings and open spaces are age-friendly, the solutions to reducing loneliness require action from those who work well beyond the health and social care sectors.
Our loneliness framework suggests practical ways of implementing the most effective loneliness services and interventions, as identified in our recent report with Age UK, Promising Approaches to reducing loneliness and isolation in later life.
From the Care Act to the Better Care Fund, there are numerous policy levers that can be used to help deliver action to reduce loneliness. The guidance provides detailed briefings for local authorities and commissioners on how addressing loneliness fits into national policy and legislation.
Thorough evaluation will help show that services are effective and really having an impact on the lives of vulnerable local people.
We encourage services, regardless of size or capacity, to measure their effectiveness. Our new guidance outlines the measurement tools available to help services do this. Analysing the cost-benefits of an intervention can help support the case for its funding. Gloucestershire Village and Community Agents activities, for example, resulted in savings to Gloucestershire Health and Social Care services totalling £1,290,107.42.
We very much hope that local authorities, commissioners and indeed service providers, will use this guidance to help them identify the areas of need in their communities, and support them in the delivery of more effective loneliness interventions. We also hope that you will share your stories and successes with us so that we can continue to expand our collection of examples of good practice and so that you can share your expertise with others.