CHRISTIAN charities that seek to address the problem of social isolation among the elderly have urged churches to play their part to the full in the Government’s new strategy directed against loneliness.
The Minister for Loneliness, Tracey Crouch — who is thought to be the first politician in the world to hold such a brief — introduced the loneliness strategy on Monday in the House of Commons.
A coalition of Christian groups, including Linking Lives UK, Parish Nursing, and the Bible Reading Fellowship’s The Gift of Years team, took part in the consultation that preceded the strategy’s publication. The document acknowledges the part that churches and faith communities can play.
The national co-ordinator of Linking Lives UK, Jeremy Sharpe, said: “It is often the case that the local church is the only source of community support, particularly in rural areas, and we all therefore have a crucial role to play in responding to loneliness.”
The three groups have joined forces with seven other charities since the consultation to form Churches Together Against Loneliness. This seeks to raise awareness of the problem and support Christians and congregations in tackling it.
Loneliness rose up the political agenda after Jo Cox, a Labour MP who had long campaigned on the issue, was murdered two years ago (News, 24 June 2016). Ms Crouch paid tribute to Ms Cox during the Commons debate, which was watched by the late MP’s family.
Loneliness is increasingly understood to be a significant social concern. Three-quarters of GPs in a survey said that they saw at least one person every day who suffered from loneliness, which has been linked to heart disease, strokes, and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, among other health problems.
The Government’s new strategy states that all GPs in England will be able to refer patients suffering from isolation to community activities and voluntary services — known as social prescribing — by 2023.
NHS funding will be made available to connect patients with activities such as walking groups or cookery classes, to help the lonely to become part of a community and to avoid the need for more expensive medical intervention later on.
Another part of the scheme is a pilot project in the north-west, where postal workers will be trained to check on vulnerable and lonely people during their rounds. Several high-profile companies and government bodies have also signed an Employer Pledge to support their workers’ social well-being.
“Jo Cox was absolutely right to highlight the critical importance of this growing social injustice, which sits alongside childhood obesity and mental well-being as one of the greatest public-health challenges of our time,” the Prime Minister said in statement unveiling the strategy.
Linking Lives UK, which grew out of a social-action initiative at a church in Berkshire, now connects 160 isolated older people with younger Christians who have made a commitment to visiting and befriending them. Churches interested in taking part can contact the charity by emailing email@example.com.
The charity World Vision UK has launched a Hallowe’en campaign, Pumpkin Heroes, to encourage faith groups to build more meaningful neighbourly relationships.
This campaign has produced resources to enable children and their friends to spend “quality time” together over Hallowe’en, in a “hope-filled” way. Britain ranked 27th out of 28 in a survey of the quality of relations between neighbours in a series of European nations.
Beverley Jarvis-Pearson, who is leading the project, said: “Hallowe’en is a great opportunity for families to become more deliberate about engaging with those around us and ensuring our young people do not feel that sense of isolation many adults are now struggling with.”