Why a new minister for loneliness won't solve the problem

The government has announced it is to appoint a minister to tackle loneliness, following on from the Jo Cox campaign. Around 9 million people in the UK, mainly elderly and disabled adults, live very solitary, lonely lives.

But the appointment and publicity has all the appearance of a sticking plaster over a gaping wound: one that's been caused by the government itself.

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The new minister's remit involves finding existing community projects the government can support, taking the example of a café in the North set up for veterans, so they can have a place to meet and talk to like-minded people.

That's exactly what council-run day centres used to do. They were places older people looked forward to visiting for a cup of tea and a chat, and in the winter they even helped to keep them warm. But government funding to local authorities has been cut so drastically that they are hardly able to sustain minimal adult social services. One of the first things to go when budgets were slashed were the day centres.

Wouldn't resources be better spent in re-opening these?

And how about reinstating the 'Meals on Wheels' services that for many elderly was their only point of contact with another human being? Meals on Wheels volunteers were also befrienders, keeping an informal eye on frail older people. If a cough or infection was spotted and treated earlier, many could be kept out of A&E during the winter months.

The new minister for loneliness would be wise to consider supporting the work so many churches are already doing. Before holding a conference in South Wales, we sent a survey to over 200 churches in the area, asking which topics they wanted to know more about. Top of the list was 'tackling loneliness', ranking higher even than dementia.

All over the country churches are working hard to reach the lonely in their communities. They are organising a whole range of activities, opening the doors for lunch clubs and afternoon activities of all types – anything that meets the need. All paid for by church members and run by volunteers who are often retired and older themselves.

In March we are holding a large conference at Romford Baptist Church, where one of the speakers will describe a befriending programme run by churches working together. It is proving so effective it has attracted the cooperation of social services and the local police – and more volunteers. Isn't this the kind of proven project the government should be funding?

Instead the situation seems to be that on the one hand, government under-funding for adult services is creating more and more loneliness, while on the other the new appointment and subsequent announcements gives the appearance it's doing more than it really is.

Louise Morse is media and communications manager for Pilgrims' Friend.

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