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The blight of loneliness

(Alamy)

3 min read

Let me confess something straight up: I am not cool (or young) enough to be a Swiftie, but when I heard a song on the radio with the lyric: “We’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time”, I had to Google who was smart enough to write those 10 words that effectively summarise years of government work on the issue of loneliness.

Close your eyes and create an image in your mind of someone who is lonely. I bet you went straight to the old person sitting in a wingback chair with an electric heater and the TV blinking away in the corner. This isn’t wrong, but it’s not wholly right either. 

Loneliness is all around us and statistically it is the younger generation who are feeling it more acutely than most. So scratch that image and now look at the teenager or young adult in your life. Maybe they are at university or they’ve left home and moved to a different town or city. Maybe they are out all the time, drinking with work colleagues. 

Government must think how its actions contribute to increasing loneliness and the cost that brings

And maybe you think that they’ve got nothing to worry about. You might be right, but we are seeing acute levels of loneliness in those young professionals more than in any other generation.  

How have we got to this stage? When writing the government’s loneliness strategy – A connected society: A strategy for tackling loneliness – over five years ago, we thought about modernising the definition of loneliness but eventually circled back to the original definition: “A subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship. It happens when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have, and those that we want”.   

I think Taylor Swift’s song has nailed it in many ways. We can all feel lonely sometimes – but when sometimes becomes more often or always, there is a problem.  

So what can we do? There is no one cause of loneliness, nor is there one solution, but there is a useful thread and that is one of connection. The strategy provided some excellent foundations for building communities that connect people not just physically but emotionally too. I still struggle to support new housing developments that are gated with little communal or retail space – they design out connectivity. When a rural bus route is scrapped, it directs the poorest and most vulnerable into isolation. When teenagers are told to “sshh” on the train, the art of conversation is muted and their desire to communicate is redirected towards an emotionless phone. 

Everyone plays a role in reducing loneliness. Government must think how its actions contribute to increasing loneliness and the cost that brings. The health consequences of loneliness are considerable and well known. It is in government’s interest to prevent loneliness by making sensible choices. But employers, the voluntary sector, and we as individuals all have a part to play. We are all part of a community and we all have a role in building a more connected society. We just have to realise it. 

 

Tracey Crouch, Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford

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