Kiren Zubairi analyses the Scottish Government's loneliness strategy and asks how we create a more connected country
A Connected Scotlandis the first government strategy, globally, aimed at tackling loneliness and social isolation and paving the way for a more connected Scotland.
Whilst posing more questions than answers, its long-awaited arrival has been welcomed by many in the third sector, albeit as an early first step.
As the strategy says, one measure of success will be policy makers and practitioners having a more complete and shared understanding of the prevalence and nature of loneliness and social isolation, measured by the degree to which it comes to feature in more government work at both a national and local level.
The strategy has many heartening features, including an early acknowledgement that loneliness and social isolation are a public health issue.
This frames the issue in the same language that Voluntary Health Scotland (VHS), voluntary health organisations, the Scottish Public Health Network and some directors of public health have been using for some time.
This is our chance to respond with evidence about what works and what is needed – and to challenge the government to come up with an action planKiren Zubairi
The strategy’s conscientious definition of loneliness and social isolation, with particular emphasis on the difference between and impact of transient and chronic loneliness, is an important foundation.
Its stated vision is commendable, for a Scotland where individuals and communities are more connected and everyone has the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships regardless of age, status circumstances or identify.
There is a big emphasis on this being everyone’s responsibility, on getting people involved in volunteering, and on empowering communities themselves, with communities acknowledged as the experts on the issue.
The strategy’s cross cutting nature takes in poverty, inequalities, health and wellbeing, planning, transport, infrastructure, culture, heritage, digital technology, and young people.
It is strong in championing and describing good work currently being done by communities and the third sector.
But it is silent on the matter of future investment, and at a time when some local authorities and partnerships have already told their local third sectors to expect significant cuts in 2018/19.
And whilst it is good to see a draft performance framework, a performance indicator on levels of loneliness is not included. Surely, without it the actual impact of the strategy cannot be assessed.
Back in November 2016, Linda Bates of Ash Scotland stood up at VHS’s national conference on loneliness and its threat to health, with a rallying cry for us to create a Scotland that is kinder, more socially connected, more inclusive and more outward looking.
This strategy calls for that very thing, and asks specifically how the third sector and social enterprise can play a stronger role in helping tackle social isolation and loneliness.
This is our chance to respond with our own evidence about what works and what is needed – and to challenge and press the government to come up with an action plan – and maybe (following Westminster’s example) a minister for loneliness?
Make sure you respond to the consultation which is open until 27 April.
For more information please contact [email protected]
Kiren Zubairi is policy engagement officer at Voluntary Health Scotland.