Jo Cox’s legacy of ending loneliness has never been more important
Covid-19 has seen the creation of support networks for women parliamentary staffers | PA Images
The pandemic has both highlighted the issue of loneliness, and the potential solutions – including for parliamentary staffers
We all feel lonely from time to time. The pandemic and successive lockdowns have made many more of us aware of the scourge, often from personal experience. But we’ve also learned ways to tackle its effects and establish connections so nobody need feel wholly alone.
Feelings of loneliness are personal and painful. It’s not always easy to talk about. But, in order to address this public health problem, we need to talk about it in every walk of life and collectively think about the new culture we want to build in our communities as we emerge from the pandemic.
In her time as MP for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox set herself the ambition of ‘turbo-charging’ the debate around loneliness. Rachel Reeves, along with former Conservative MP Seema Kennedy, took that forward after Jo’s murder. Their report transformed attitudes to loneliness in this country, but there is still more work to be done. We hope our cross-party event for parliamentary staff will contribute to that.
The Jo Cox Loneliness Commission found that loneliness could be as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. But while we can all discuss the dangers of tobacco, still too few of us are ready to talk about the damage unwanted social isolation does to us as individuals and to society as a whole.
As a result of that Commission, we got the world’s first loneliness minister and a national strategy that included a recommendation for cross-departmental working by government. These were great achievements but only a start.
Like the response to the pandemic more widely, fighting loneliness is everybody’s responsibility. Government must play its part – and we should hold them to account – but so must each and every one of us. We have the capacity and – especially now – the time to do it. One step, one connection, one phone call at a time.
New ways of staying socially connected using technology and networking have also been harnessed with people stepping up to volunteer as community champions. It’s been extraordinary to watch the best of humanity in action during this crisis. Welfare calls are being made, food and medicine dropped off on doorsteps and now help with the vaccine roll out. There are many reasons to be optimistic for a more connected society for the future where loneliness can be eradicated.
The Great Winter Get Together has shown what can be done. With all that we have experienced as a nation, and all we have learned, we can go forward together to realise Jo’s dream that ours should never be “a country where thousands of people are living lonely lives forgotten by the rest of us”.
Tomorrow, the Labour Women’s Parliamentary Staff Network is hosting an event for women working for MPs and Peers of all parties, with the Jo Cox Foundation and Marmalade Trust. It’s the first cross-party event of its kind, designed to bridge the political divide and bring people together from all political parties to discuss what we can do to help each other during what is an isolating time for staffers working remotely.
The creation of parliamentary networks, including for both Labour and Conservative women, is one of the successes of the pandemic, increasing participation and giving people a new sense of belonging. It’s exactly the kind of cross-party cooperation Jo Cox championed.
She reminded us “we have far more in common than that which divides us.” Cross-party working among parliamentarians has often led to a greater quality of discussion, debate and action to find solutions to collective problems. We hope tomorrow’s event will be the first of many for staffers to do the same, particularly on loneliness.
Kim Leadbeater is an ambassador for the Jo Cox Foundation and Director of More in Common Batley and Spen. Natasa Pantelic is a founding member of the Labour Women’s Parliamentary Staff Network.
More details here on the cross-party women parliamentary staffer’s Great Winter Get Together (12:30pm 12 January 2021).