'It's time the housing sector got involved to help shape the national strategy to end loneliness'
Social landlords already do a huge amount of work to help tackle loneliness – and now they have the chance to shape the government’s new strategy, says senior policy adviser Andy Staniford from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport .
Loneliness is often a hidden condition that causes people to suffer in silence. When we’re lonely, we have no one to talk to about it, and when we’re not lonely, it’s far from our minds. Recent research from the Office for National Statistics has found that 5% of adults are often or always lonely, with a further 40% being lonely sometimes or occasionally. That’s almost half of the adult population.
Not only does the individual suffer emotionally, evidence suggests that the health impact is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Lonely people are more likely to visit their GP, develop dementia and die before their time. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just the old suffering. ONS analysis found it was younger adults most likely to suffer – those between 16 and 24.
The Jo Cox Commission published its report into loneliness at the end of 2017. This resulted in the Prime Minister creating the first position of Minister for Loneliness, Tracey Crouch MP, with a commitment to develop a loneliness strategy for England for publication at the end of 2018. This is not just the first loneliness minister for England, but a world first.
Most of us feel lonely from time to time but we bounce back, or do we just learn to cope and pretend it’s not there? Those of you who have spent time working with residents on estates, in local housing offices or in contact teams know all too well those clients who regularly call or come in for a friendly chat.
It’s easy to see how the course of life disrupts our friendships as we age. Changing school, moving home, becoming a parent, changing jobs, all change the dynamics of our friendships. We generally adjust to this, keeping contact with those closest friends and eventually making new connections and friendships to fill the gap in our emotional needs. However, when a number of changes come along at once or something more severe happens, such as bereavement, developing a long-term health condition or becoming a carer, people can get trapped in their own world.
The government is looking at what policies are needed to enable support and personal resilience so people can develop the skills and ability to stop them falling into a downward spiral of increasing loneliness. But for those that do find themselves on this downward slope, we need a culture of understanding and support to help people take those first steps on the path to reengagement.
I have worked in housing for 25 years and been a member of CIH for 16 of those. Recently, I had a sideways move to the civil service and found myself seconded to the cross-government loneliness team. One of the things my time in housing taught me was the breadth and depth of community activity being carried out or supported by local authorities and housing associations. Very often these activities have come about to develop a real sense of community and belonging in an area but at the same time, they help to build people’s connections and resilience – tackling loneliness.
Andy Staniford FCIH is the senior policy advisor and part of the Tackling Loneliness Team for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
What we think
Later this month I’ll be joining CIH senior policy and practice officer Sarah Davis to host a webinar on loneliness.
I’ll let you know the latest on the development of the government’s new strategy, but more importantly I want to hear from you.
I would like you to tell me about the projects and community groups that your organisations are involved in to connect people and also, I would like to know the sort of policies and changes you think the government should introduce to help your organisations with this agenda.
- 'Shaping the national strategy to end loneliness - an opportunity for housing' takes place on 24 July at 2-3pm. It’s exclusive to CIH members and completely free – find out more and book your place