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
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