Tracey Crouch has been named as the UK's first minister for loneliness, speaking to the BBC she said she was ‘proud' to take on the role and would work with charities, business and fellow parliamentarians to tackle the issue.
The creation of a ministerial post with responsibility in this area was one if the recommendations made by the commission on loneliness set up by the MP Jo Cox who was murdered during the 2016 Brexit referendum.
In a statement released by Downing Street Prime Minister Theresa May said that Ms Cox had ‘recognized the scale of loneliness across the country and dedicated herself to doing all she could help those affected.’
Tracey Crouch told the BBC that she would ‘honour’ the memory of Jo Cox by working to develop a government strategy for tackling an issue about which she had been ‘passionate’.
As part of this strategy it is understood the ONS will be tasked with developing a means of measuring loneliness. There are also plans to set up a fund to support community based events tackling loneliness and social isolation.
Loneliness has been recognized as a growing social problem in the UK, particularly amongst older people, 17% of who responded to a survey said they saw friends of family less than once a week. It has also been linked to health conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
(source: The Campaign Against Loneliness)
Quoted in the New York Times Mark Robinson of Age UK said that the health impact of loneliness was equivalent to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
The appointment of a ‘ministerial lead' to oversee the issue was welcomed by MPs Rachel Reeves and Seema Kennedy, joint chairs of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness.
Creating a minister for loneliness is a welcome development from a government that frequently seems distanced from the social problems faced by many Britons. It is though only a small step in the direction of progress.
The practical aspects of just what powers Ms Crouch will have are vague, she nay find it an uphill struggle convincing a constitutionally sceptical treasury to release enough funding to make a real difference. As for getting the ONS to measure loneliness, that may go the same way as David Cameron’s attempt to quantify happiness a few years ago.
If this or any government is serious about tackling loneliness, then it will need to address the fractured nature of our society in a holistic manner. Touching on every aspect from how we work and travel; to where we live and how much tax we pay.
This will require having a mature conversation with the electorate and showing a determination to act for the long term in the face if media demands to solve every problem instantly. Sadly, that may be beyond all three mainstream political parties, caught as they are in an endless cycle of bickering and short- term thinking.