Rachel Reeves MP: Let’s make the world a less lonely place
Rachel Reeves MP writes for PoliticsHome off the back of her debate in parliament on tackling loneliness in Britain.
Jo Cox came into parliament in 2015 with a long to-do list. One of these actions included “to do something about loneliness.”
It was something Jo had experienced firsthand herself went she went to university. She found herself in a new place, away from her family and friends and experienced feelings that are all too familiar to those of us who have felt the pain of being lonely.
Jo witnessed herself how loneliness doesn’t discriminate.
As a child, she would accompany her grandfather - a postman - on his rounds. For too many of the people they would be delivering letters to, she saw how this was sometimes the only social interaction people would have that day. This left a lasting impression on Jo.
A no-nonsense Yorkshire woman, Jo came into politics determined not just to talk about loneliness, but to do something about it too. Jo was a practical person whose natural instincts were to work cross party. As she said in her maiden speech we have far More in Common than that which divides us.
Within weeks of being elected to Parliament, Jo established a cross-party Commission on Loneliness with the Conservative MP Seema Kennedy, bringing together 13 organisations ranging from The Co-op to RVS and Age UK, to take action on loneliness.
After Jo’s murder, Seema recruited me to Co-Chair the Commission alongside her. Since we launched in January, we have been shining a spotlight on the wide range of groups who can experience loneliness, from parents to disabled people, to carers and refugees and asylum seekers.
Research suggests that loneliness is worse for us in terms of mortality than obesity - and as bad for us as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The Commission will culminate in a manifesto that we will launch in December in Batley, the heart of the community Jo loved and served as its MP. The manifesto will be a call to action, not just for the Government but for each and every one of us - about the part we can all play in tackling loneliness.
Work to tackle loneliness needs to be embedded right across Government departments, to ensure that the country has a joined-up, coherent approach that battling the loneliness epidemic requires. We also need to become better at measuring loneliness, not just of its direct impact but of the interventions that work too. Take the great work done by GPs up and down the country with social prescribing - where health professionals steer patients towards activities and clubs in a bid to help them reconnect . Lonely people tend to visit GPs more often, with 7 out of 10 GPs reporting that at least 1 in 10 people were coming to their surgery because they were lonely.
GPs and health professionals are on the frontline, seeing the effects of loneliness day in and day out. They need to be properly resourced to be able to tackle the issue head on which includes supporting initiatives to make sure social prescriptions are fulfilled. It remains too easy to simply throw a “social prescription” in the bin.
Patients need to be supported to attend local activities and events - one example of such work is “Community Connectors” run by British Red Cross and The Co-op where volunteers accompany acutely lonely people to local events in a bid to help them reconnect.
There is a role for us all to play. That’s why I’ve secured a Westminster hall debate on the issue so MPs from across the House can come together to discuss loneliness in our constituencies, the role we can all play in tackling it and share with one another the brilliant work already being done.
Sometimes it’s the simplest acts that can make a difference - popping by to check-in on a neighbour, saying hello to someone on the bus, making a phone call to a family member. By showing others that we are #HappytoChat we can do our bit to brighten someone’s day.
This summer 9.3 million people took part in the The Great Get Together to support Jo’s message that we have ‘more in common than that which divides us’. The Great Christmas Get Together will call on the public to take small acts to build strong communities this Christmas by sharing a mince pie with a neighbour, acquaintance or friend.
I hope our campaign in the run-up to Christmas will inspire everyone with a renewed desire to fulfil Jo’s legacy and her work to make the world a less lonely place.