This week, the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness publishes its final report – a call to arms for action on loneliness. The work of the Commission this year has been illuminating, highlighting an issue that Rachel Reeves MP has called the ‘sixth social evil’.
The Campaign to End Loneliness, a proud member of the Commission, was started in 2010. Back then, loneliness was not widely discussed. It’s devastating health impacts were little understood. And seven years on, the epidemic of loneliness – especially in older age – is showing no signs of slowing down.
As Jo said, “Loneliness doesn’t discriminate.” And her Commission made this clear: loneliness is universal. It is the thread that connects very different people. Refugees, older people, young people, carers: loneliness is what they have in common.
This is the great irony of loneliness. It makes us feel so separate and alone – but it’s a part of the human experience that we all understand.
Why is loneliness such an issue?
But nine million people throughout the UK say they are often or always lonely. Why does loneliness still exist? We all understand it, and ultimately we all know how to solve it. So why does loneliness still blight the lives of so many?
The reasons for that are many and complex. Is it technology? Is it social media? Is it because we don’t go to church? Is it our changing family make-up and increased divorce rate? Are we more selfish? Is it our culture? Is it the stigma? Is it innate Britishness – are we simply too awkward and buttoned-up as a nation to truly tackle loneliness?
The answer is: all of the above. More than half of British adults (56%) say admitting to loneliness is difficult. And our attitude to loneliness in later life does not help either. Nine in 10 people believe loneliness in older age is now more likely than ever – rising to 93% when asking those aged 65+.
We see loneliness as inevitable: a normal part of life.
It’s the perfect time of year to tackle loneliness
But it doesn’t have to be. Christmas is the perfect time for us to challenge the dangerous idea that loneliness is inevitable. If there is a chance for people to connect, they will. The festive season proves this.
How many parties do you get invited to “because it’s Christmas?” How many cards do we get from people we never hear from the rest of the year? How many glasses of fizz are consumed and hangovers nursed in the name of festive socialising?
Christmas is the excuse we need
Christmas is the excuse that awkward, buttoned-up Brits need to tackle loneliness. So let’s embrace it, and use it.
This December, make that moment of connection happen with someone who might not have so many invitations as you. A relative who lives alone; someone who has just had a cancer diagnosis; a young person who is a carer for a sick parent, or an older person who is spending Christmas day alone.
You could drop in with a Christmas card, or stop for a chat, or invite them over for a mince pie.
These small acts of connection to tackle loneliness are something we can all offer year round – but Christmas gives us that excuse to begin.
For inspiration throughout 2018 and beyond, the Campaign to End Loneliness is building a movement of people who want to take action. We want to make loneliness everyone’s business. Join us.
The Campaign to End Loneliness is running the #12Ways campaign – 12 simple tips and ideas to tackle loneliness this Christmas. Get involved with #12Ways here.