A national campaign has said more must be done to help those facing isolation this winter
A national charity has published a new report calling for urgent action by governments, health bodies, funders and service providers to better address the critical issue of loneliness in Scotland.
The call from the Campaign to End Loneliness comes as the results of a survey highlight the devastating impact that the Covid-19 pandemic is having by amplifying the experience of loneliness in Scotland, particularly for those who were already feeling chronically lonely.
As the ongoing restrictions reduce access to vital services, the survey results echo what many of those contributing to the Campaign to End Loneliness’s Promising Approaches Revisited report have witnessed first-hand, particularly for those already experiencing chronic loneliness prior to lockdown .
The research, published today (15 Oct) by Survation on behalf of the Campaign to End Loneliness, surveyed over 1,000 people in Scotland and found:
- 89% of those surveyed are concerned about older people with a long-term health condition or disability feeling lonely.
- 87% are worried about a bereaved older person being lonely.
- 83% are concerned about older people in care homes feeling lonely.
- 81% of people are concerned about people aged 65 or older being lonely.
- Almost two-thirds (62%) fear they won’t be able to see family and friends at Christmas or other religious festivals.
- 57% fear they won't be able to see older family members for fear of putting them at risk, increasing the risk of loneliness over Christmas and other religious festivals for these people.
- Almost a third (26%) are worried about being alone during the festive period.
- Three-quarters (71%) of those surveyed by Survation agree with the campaign’s call for increased government funding into services addressing loneliness and isolation, along with 73% supporting increased funding for bereavement support services.
- People felt what was most to address loneliness in their areas are free broadband (34%) and making communities more accessible for older and disabled people (32%).
- A third (33%) of those surveyed had formed an extended household.
- 67% of all those surveyed did not form an extended household. They provided a range of reasons that they didn’t do so, for example 13% didn’t know who they would form an extended household with, 11% didn’t have family or close friends (or were not in contact with them) and 2% were worried people would say no if asked.
The report highlights the impact of chronic loneliness on older people across the UK. That includes its effects on mental and physical health that include: increasing the likelihood of mortality by 26%; putting individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia; causing depression and anxiety; reducing people’s confidence; and, stopping them from making meaningful connections.
The report provides a framework for how to tackle loneliness as well as examples of services doing that in practice including Glasgow Disability Alliance, Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector Community Connectors and the National Theatre of Scotland LGTBI+ Elders Social Dance Clubs. It is designed to help those commissioning and funding services to better understand what they can do in their area.
Susan is an active 72-year-old who hasn’t let the impact of two brains tumours – including sight loss in one eye, memory loss and reduced mobility – hold her back. She and her late husband Michael were founder members of Glasgow Disability Alliance (GDA) and active members of the organisations’s Purple Poncho drama group, which helps to improve awareness and visibility of disabled people, and they both had a shared passion for life.
GDA provided vital support to Michael when he was terminally ill eight years ago, with regular phone calls to keep in touch. Susan recalls: “I will never forget it. With a lot of of organisations you are just a number, but not GDA – the support was amazing.”
When lockdown started in March and Susan had to shield, unable to see her children and grandchildren, that support immediately kicked in again.
“I found shielding very hard, I am usually a very positive person and always busy out and about. Not being able to go out really affected my mental health. My home is normally my haven but as the weeks progressed it became more like a jail. I was pacing up and down.”
"Within a couple of weeks GDA had set up daily wellbeing calls to check in on their members, which made a huge difference. ”It was a godsend and just came at the right time. It was definitely a lifeline for me. One of the volunteers called a lady, who was so grateful to get his call as she was unable to get to get food as her home carer had been taken away, and he was able to organise to get her food delivered.”
GDA secured funding to buy Ipads and set up training to help reduce isolation among their members. Now Susan is on daily Zoom calls doing everything from drama and literature to yoga. “It makes such a difference to see people’s faces. I love it!”
Kate Shurety, executive director of The Campaign to End Loneliness, said: “We hope our new report Promising Approaches Revisited will help the UK and devolved governments, local authorities, health bodies, funders and service providers quickly identify and support the most effective solutions to address of loneliness.
“If the issue is not adequately addressed in every UK community, we are concerned that there could be a timebomb being set that will impact more broadly on mental and physical health services. Pre-Covid-19, it is estimated that there was 1.2 million older people already experiencing chronic loneliness. With ongoing restrictions affecting people’s ability to meet up with friends and family, our poll suggests millions more are struggling with feelings of loneliness.
“There is not a one size fits all approach to reducing chronic loneliness, but our report illustrates how, when used together, effective services and interventions from health services, government and charities - including those adapted to Covid times - can help make a real difference to many people’s lives in every community.
“It is encouraging to see initiatives like Connecting Scotland planning to digitally support 60,000 people, but more must be done to help older people better connect with their family, friends and social groups.”
What can be done
The Campaign to End Loneliness is calling on the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to urgently build on the loneliness strategies that exist to ensure they target the key groups most vulnerable to chronic loneliness. It is vital that there is continued investment in action to reduce loneliness and that these are linked up across all government departments. The campaign is also asking governments to give urgent attention to ensuring community infrastructure and space, housing, transport, digital access and social care all work to maximise the opportunities for social connection across all age groups and all communities.
Through the Promising Approaches Revisited Framework and a series of workshops across the UK – including Scotland - in October and November, the Campaign to End Loneliness will support governments, service providers and funders to address this critical issue by:
- taking further action to address loneliness in their communities.
- helping those most at risk to build and maintain vital connections.
- Learning ways in which they can successfully adapt services around Covid-19 restrictions.
For more information visit www.campaigntoendloneliness.org