A Min­is­ter for Lone­li­ness

It’s an is­sue that af­fects nine mil­lion peo­ple in the UK. We asked re­cently ap­pointed Min­is­ter for Lone­li­ness, Tracey Crouch, how she plans to make a dif­fer­ence

YOURS (UK) - - Contents - By Katharine Woot­ton

We’ve long known from your calls, let­ters and sto­ries that lone­li­ness is some­thing that af­fects many of our read­ers, whether you feel lonely your­self, or are vol­un­teer­ing to help oth­ers at risk of iso­la­tion.

That’s why we were de­lighted to hear of the ap­point­ment of a ded­i­cated Min­is­ter for Lone­li­ness on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Jo Cox Com­mis­sion, set up in mem­ory of the MP who cam­paigned pas­sion­ately about lone­li­ness in our so­ci­ety. Tracey Crouch MP, Min­is­ter for Sport and Civil So­ci­ety, is the one who’s taken on this mam­moth re­spon­si­bil­ity, hav­ing spent much of her po­lit­i­cal ca­reer work­ing with char­i­ties that com­bat iso­la­tion and ex­plor­ing is­sues af­fect­ing the el­derly.

“It’s an enor­mous priv­i­lege to be able to do this,” says Tracey.

Her brief is to work across the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments to look at poli­cies that could com­bat lone­li­ness. She’s also re­spon­si­ble for mea­sur­ing lone­li­ness in the UK as well pro­duc­ing a strat­egy and in­no­va­tion fund avail­able later this year. Be­fore she even be­gins to come up with a so­lu­tion, Tracey (42), who has ex­pe­ri­enced lone­li­ness her­self as an older new mum, says it’s im­por­tant to recog­nise that lone­li­ness af­fects all the gen­er­a­tions, not just older

peo­ple. This echoes Jo Cox’s idea that “young or old, lone­li­ness doesn’t dis­crim­i­nate” but can touch the re­cently be­reaved, empty nesters, car­ers, asy­lum seek­ers, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties or men­tal health is­sues, new par­ents, univer­sity stu­dents and peo­ple liv­ing in big cities, to name just a few.

“We also can’t iden­tify those at risk of lone­li­ness,” says Tracey. “Just be­cause some­one lives alone doesn’t mean they’re lonely and just be­cause peo­ple are sur­rounded by fam­ily doesn’t mean they’re not. The chal­lenge is un­der­stand­ing why peo­ple feel lonely and what we can do about it.”

Be­cause lone­li­ness is so wide­spread, Tracey says a key part of her role will be part­ner­ing with char­i­ties, busi­nesses and projects that al­ready reach out to dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple, as well as po­ten­tially bring­ing these groups to­gether.

“There are lots of or­gan­i­sa­tions al­ready do­ing great things to beat lone­li­ness, from char­i­ties work­ing in na­ture to peo­ple help­ing with com­pan­ion an­i­mals,” says Tracey. “Groups such as the Scouts and Guides are also great at look­ing out for peo­ple

liv­ing alone. My job is to en­sure we can grow these good ex­am­ples and make them less patchy and more con­sis­tent.” As well as face-to-face in­ter­ac­tion, tech­nol­ogy is an­other av­enue Tracey is ex­plor­ing. Re­search re­veals that while tech­nol­ogy in­creases iso­la­tion in the younger gen­er­a­tions, it makes older peo­ple feel more con­nected as they learn how to stay in touch with friends and fam­ily over the in­ter­net. “Ul­ti­mately we want ev­ery­one to feel much hap­pier and I’d like ev­ery­one to recog­nise that we all have a role to play in tack­ling this. So if you read this and think ‘I’m not lonely but I won­der if Pat next door is’, knock on her door and see if there’s any­thing she needs. For all we know, that chat could be the only con­ver­sa­tion Pat’s had in a fort­night. Vol­un­teer­ing can also help hugely, both if you’re feel­ing lonely your­self or want to help oth­ers.

“I’m so hum­bled to be con­tin­u­ing what Jo Cox be­gan in this role and if I can just raise aware­ness of lone­li­ness and sign­post peo­ple how to re­con­nect with their com­mu­nity, I will have hope­fully made a dif­fer­ence.”

‘I’d like ev­ery­one to recog­nise that we all have a role to play in tack­ling this’

Tracey ex­plains to Yours writer Katharine how all of us can help tackle lone­li­ness

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