Wales campaign to end loneliness

A national charity, the Campaign to End Loneliness, has published a new report (on 15 October 2020) calling for urgent action by the Welsh and UK governments, health bodies, funders and service providers to better address the critical issue of loneliness in Wales.  The call comes as the results of a UK-wide survey, including Wales, highlight the devastating impact that the Covid-19 pandemic is having by amplifying the experience of loneliness, 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 on 15 October 2020 by Survation on behalf of the Campaign to End Loneliness found that of those surveyed in Wales:

· 91% are worried about a bereaved older person being lonely

· 89% of those surveyed are concerned about older people with a long-term health condition or disability feeling lonely

· 83% of people are concerned about people aged 65 or older being lonely

· 78% are concerned about older people in care homes feeling lonely

· Two thirds (65%) fear they won’t be able to see family and friends at Christmas or other religious festivals

· Over half (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

· A quarter (25%) are worried about being alone during the festive period

· 80% agree with the Campaign’s call for increased government funding into services addressing loneliness and isolation, with 75% supporting more funding for bereavement support services

· The actions people felt were most needed to address loneliness in their areas are services that help people form new friendships (34%) and free broadband (30%)

· Over a third (37%) of those surveyed had formed an extended household

· 63% of all those surveyed did not form an extended household. They provided a range of reasons that they didn’t do so, for example 27% didn’t know who they would form an extended household with, 6% didn’t have family or close friends (or were not in contact with them) and 5% were worried people would say no if asked

The Campaign to End Loneliness’s Promising Approaches Revisited report highlights the impact of chronic loneliness on older people. 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 (see notes to editors for more information).

The report provides a framework for how to tackle loneliness as well as many examples of services doing that in practice, including several in Wales:  · Bus Buddies · United Welsh Connect Project · Project 360 · Walking Wales · PALS · Digital Communities Wales · The Sunshine Café

The report is designed to help those commissioning and funding services to better understand what they can do in their area.

Speaking on the launch of today’s report, Kate Shurety, Executive Director at 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 Digital Communities Wales, which aims to reduce digital exclusion in Wales, but more must be done to help older people better connect with their family, friends and social groups.”

Jeremy Bacon, Older People Lead at The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), said “This report is a timely contribution to policy debates on how we should respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. It highlights the vital importance of recognising and responding to the psychological impact of Covid-19 alongside its physical risk, and for public, private and third sector organisations to collaborate to provide community initiatives that reach those most hidden and isolated, offering autonomy and choice in responding to the psychological impact of loneliness.”

“Counsellors and psychotherapists working with older clients report concern that the narrative of the pandemic lumps older people into an homogenous at-risk group whose shielding and risk status results in isolation being equated with safety and well-being.

“Our understanding of loneliness and how we address it, must take account of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic across the four nations and in every community. Restrictions on physical contact, the closure of community venues and services providing support and companionship, and the fears of those most vulnerable to the virus, inevitably increase the risks of social, emotional and existential loneliness.”

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 charity is also calling on the Northern Ireland Government to develop its own strategy so that loneliness receives the attention and resources it needs. 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.

Kate Shurety, Executive Director at the Campaign to End Loneliness explained: “We are particularly concerned about the effect Covid-19 is having on the extreme sense of isolation felt by many groups, including people in the shielding category, those feeling vulnerable, people who live alone with no social connections, care homes residents, or carers struggling due to minimal support or respite.

“We would ask governments when making any future Covid-19 restrictions to give due consideration, where possible, to allow people to form a safe extended household if they live alone or are carers, and have safe face-to-face visits within care homes.”

Workshops Through the Promising Approaches Revisited Framework and a series of workshops across the UK 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. The report is available at www.campaigntoendloneliness.org (from Thursday 15 October)


Covid-19 impact on UK services and volunteering opportunities

There are widespread reports of UK services and volunteering opportunities being forced to stop due to Covid-19 restrictions and falling income. For example:

· Singing for the Brain, an Alzheimer’s Society initiative, which features in the Campaign to End Loneliness’s Promising Approaches Revisited report, brings together people with dementia and their carers to sing together, had to stop their community-based groups and move them online. However, many older or disabled people are unable to access these new virtual groups for a variety of reasons, including lack of internet access, they can’t afford the appropriate technology or lack confidence in using the technology.

· Men’s Sheds, who feature in the report, provide a meeting point and activities to reduce loneliness and isolation, have reopened but have had to evolve to help people mix online

· Forces charity Help for Heroes, which supports veterans, had to stop all face-to-face support, move fellowship activities online and close three of their recovery centres

Many charities, museums and organisations have reported that older volunteers have had to step back, due to the need for social distancing and shielding, losing a vital way to make inter-generational social connections. This also meant many organisations had to rapidly recruit new younger volunteers, some of whom are now returning to work and less able to give their time, with a resulting impact on community -based initiatives that combat isolation, such as befriending.

About Promising Approaches Revisited

Promising Approaches Revisited found services that that can make a real difference include psychological support, one to one sessions, providing volunteering opportunities for older people, volunteer befrienders, group sessions (in person and online), age friendly communities and holistic neighbourhood approaches.

Impact of Loneliness on physical and mental health:

· Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%

· Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke

· Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure

· Loneliness puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia

· Lonely individuals are more prone to depression

· Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age

· Loneliness and isolation are associated with poorer cognitive function among older adults

· Lonely people are more likely to rely on use of our health and social care services because older patients living alone are 50% more likely to access emergency care services; 40% more likely to have more than 12 GP appointments; Independent risk of care home admission; Reducing loneliness should reduce the demand for institutional care.

For more information on the impact of loneliness on physical and mental health, and wellbeing see: https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/threat-to-health/

About the survey

The survey of 2017 adults aged over 18 in the UK was carried out by Survation from 2-7 October 2020 by online panel. Data was weighted by age, sex, region, highest level of qualification, annual equivalised household income, 2019 General Election and 2016 EU Referendum Votes.

The Campaign to End Loneliness

The Campaign to End Loneliness believe that people of all ages need connections that matter. Having the friendship and support we need is a fundamental part of our wellbeing and when loneliness becomes entrenched in later life it can be hardest to overcome. We do that by evidence-based campaigning, facilitating learning on the frontline and connecting different parts of the loneliness community such as academics, frontline practitioners, decision-makers and businesses. Founded in 2011. www.campaigntoendloneliness.org

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