A call to connect with one another
Jo Cox said, ‘young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate’. Today her fellow MPs Seema Kennedy and Rachel Reeves launch the conclusions of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission.
Over the past year they have led a debate about how loneliness is impacting people across the country at all stages of life. They make a powerful call to everyone to connect.
We are social animals. If we don’t eat we get hungry. If we are starved of social relationships, we become lonely.
Since I was given the 'Happy to Chat' badge at the launch of the Commission I have tried to make an effort to stop and chat to the people I pass regularly in my street. People like Jeremy who has health problems and lives alone. Every morning when I open my curtains he is sitting on the bench in the park opposite my house. When I pass on my way to the swimming pool or work, we say hello and ask each other how we are. He is always happy to chat.
Or my neighbour in his 70s. I often catch him smoking outside his front door. We chat about his work and why he doesn’t want to give it up, the struggle when his wife was ill, and how he misses the sunshine in his home country of Grenada. He is always happy to chat.
I have seen loneliness first hand. Bereavement, mental health, retirement, ill health, lack of money, a ‘chaotic’ home have all been factors in reducing people’s ability to have and sustain meaningful social relationships. I have also seen the benefits of being part of a faith community, of getting involved in local voluntary activities, of caring neighbours who look out for each other, of support groups.
Can do and connected
At the Centre for Ageing Better, our early research which analysed the population over 50 and segmented them according to levels of wellbeing, identified a group we called ‘can do and connected’. While these people had lower than average health and finances, their wellbeing scores were higher than average. The differentiating factor was that they had stronger social relationships than other segments. They were connected.
Staying connected in later life
This is why at the Centre for Ageing Better we are focusing on making changes in society that enable more people to stay connected in later life. For example by:
- Enabling more people to remain in fulfilling work for longer. Our research found that older workers particularly value the social aspects of work.
- Developing innovative approaches to supporting people to prepare for retirement focused on the emotional and psychological as well as the practical aspects. For some people retirement is a difficult transition which can leave them feeling lonely. In a survey of people approaching retirement, 17% of workers are worried about being lonely in retirement.
- Looking at how to enable more people to contribute to their communities in later life. We know that those with fewer social connections who have most to gain from volunteering are also the least likely to be involved. This is why we are identifying the barriers to participation particularly in deprived communities.
- Looking at how to help more people in later life get what they want and need from the internet. Digital exclusion is a barrier to staying connected whether as a means of connecting with friends and family, accessing local transport and community activities.
'Happy to chat'
There are many ways in which we can tackle and prevent loneliness. Each and every one of us can let people know we are ‘happy to chat’. But we also need to change our communities and society. This is likely to require concerted action by employers, local and national government, the voluntary sector and public services.
Creating more connected communities would be a fitting tribute to Jo Cox.