2018, as well as an increased emphasis on mental health across all ages, saw numerous campaigns on loneliness among Britain’s older population (and to a lesser extent, in its young people too). Many of those older people who are lonely, of course, are not the types to be on social media campaigning themselves. Change has to come from specialist groups and volunteers.
Loneliness is a real problem. Age UK estimates an incredible 3.6 million older adults live alone, 2 million of which are over 75. They claim that this loneliness can be as damaging to their health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more harmful than obesity. The implication is a simple one: if we can put so much resources and attention on reducing smoking and obesity, why can we not do the same to combat loneliness?
It does not take a big leap to see how this impacts on social care. Lonelier adults are more likely to have poor health outcomes and to see their physical and mental condition decline, pushing them into social care. Creating a more social environment for these people would therefore have a big preventative effect, potentially reducing the burden on the health and social care system.
What can the sector and the government do about this? At the moment, the social care sector has no incentive to tackle loneliness. Its funding is based on those it helps, not on those it keeps out. The government is likely to support volunteer projects led by groups such as Age UK with grant funding and possibly facility access. Either way, expect more pressure from the third sector on the issue.