The devastating impact loneliness can have on our mental and physical health makes it an issue we simply cannot ignore. For a growing number of older people, loneliness defines and shatters their lives.
But loneliness is also a deeply personal experience- unique to every individual; a problem with different causes and consequences for every one of us. This is what makes addressing loneliness so complex. And despite a wide and growing recognition of the substantial public health implications of loneliness and the urgent need to take action, there is a significant knowledge gap among funders and commissioners about what really works in addressing it.
Promising approaches to reducing loneliness and isolation in later life, a report produced jointly by Age UK and The Campaign to End Loneliness, seeks to fill that knowledge gap and to offer some practical answers to that big question, what works in tackling loneliness?
The report sets out a new framework for understanding how to tackle the problem, presenting a range of projects and examples from around the country demonstrating the many, varied solutions needed for an effective response to a very personal problem.
Crucially, the report argues that commissioners must recognise the complex and individual experience of loneliness and should not seek a ‘one size fits all solution’. In fact, it should be the ambition of every local authority to ensure access to a full menu of interventions that help those who are lonely and to recognise the role many different types of services can play in responding to the issue.
The report breaks loneliness interventions down into four distinct categories that could be put in place to provide a comprehensive local system of services to prevent and alleviate loneliness:
1. Foundation Services that reach lonely individuals and understand their specific circumstances to help them find the right support, such as the Gloucestershire Village and Community Agents, trusted members of the community who provide information and support to local people.
2. Gateway Services like transport and technology that act as the glue that keeps people active and engaged, and makes it possible for communities to come together, such as Age UK Kensington and Chelsea’s shopping service, which enables older residents of the borough who are unable to use public transport to do their shopping, while also providing an opportunity to socialise.
3. Direct Interventions that maintain existing relationships and enable new connections – either group-based or one-to-one support, as well as emotional support services, such as Touchstones, led by Rural Action Yorkshire, set up to support bereaved older people to access and learn new practical skills for day-to-day living, and to provide opportunities for older people to get involved in their community through volunteering.
4. In developing these services, commissioners should consider what structural supports (termed Structural Enablers) are needed in their communities to create the right conditions for ending loneliness, such as volunteering, positive ageing and neighbourhood approaches. LinkAge Bristol, for example, is a local charity that works with people aged 55+ and local communities to facilitate inspiring social activities that enrich lives, reduce isolation and loneliness and promote active participation and positive ageing.
This guide is especially relevant to commissioners, funders and deliverers of services that support older people – it will help you to identify the areas of need in your communities, and support you as service providers, in the delivery of more effective loneliness interventions. The Campaign to End Loneliness will be working closely with local authorities to support them in strengthening their networks with their partners across the community to put the guide’s recommendations into action.