Loneliness is as harmful as smoking or obesity, says Tracey Crouch, the minister about to reveal England’s first national loneliness strategy.
“The government can’t make friends for us,” she told a conference in London.
But she said the strategy will have ideas to improve “social connections” and to get better evidence about what works in reducing loneliness.
Ms Crouch says attitudes to taking loneliness seriously are “where we were with mental health a decade ago”.
The loneliness strategy, commissioned by the prime minister and expected next week, will not be focused on the elderly, but will be about all age groups, said Ms Crouch.
Ending the stigma
The minister for loneliness promised there would be a “national conversation” to remove the stigma about talking about such problems.
Ms Crouch said she had been shocked by the negative impact of isolation, which can affect people at many points in their lives, such as new parents, the bereaved, those who had lost touch with their family, as well as those in old age.
“It’s a common misconception that it only happens in later life,” the minister told a conference organised by the Campaign to End Loneliness, supported by a coalition of charities.
The strategy will work across departments, including transport, education and health.
Rising up agenda
The minister recognised that some local services which could reduce loneliness have been affected by austerity.
“Decisions taken at central government level and local government level may well have impacted some people’s connectivity in their communities.
“There’s no point pretending that has not happened,” said Ms Crouch.
The strategy will also try to create a clearer picture of the extent of the problem.
The minister said the Office for National Statistics would produce a more “consistent” definition for measuring loneliness, which would provide better evidence on what works in reducing it.
But Ms Crouch told the conference that loneliness was rising up the political agenda.
“The government now recognises loneliness as one of the biggest health challenges we face.”