NATIONAL initiatives to tackle loneliness should include faith-based communities and organisations, a report on how religious groups combat the problem suggests. In addition, the groups should ensure that their activities are known to public services and other organisations fighting loneliness, it says.
The survey, Right Up Your Street: Faith’s response to loneliness, was produced by the national network of faith and community-based organisations FaithAction, for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society.
In its foreword, the group’s chairman, Stephen Timms, the Labour MP for East Ham, writes: “Faith groups are deeply rooted in the community, and are in it for the long haul. They address emotional and spiritual needs. They are uniquely well-placed to respond to loneliness and social isolation. The UK has over 50,000 faith-based charities. A survey quoted in this report identifies ‘reducing social isolation’ as these organisations’ second highest priority, after ‘supporting families’.
“This report’s stories and examples of best practice are compelling. The Government, and health and social-care practitioners, should pay close attention to its recommendations. In particular, we really must include faith groups in community-based strategies on loneliness. . .
“Loneliness affects people of all ages. It is heartbreaking. It is often hidden. But it is also resolvable. And faith groups have a vital part to play. They are made up of congregations who meet together regularly. They do so out of obedience to God, but meeting weekly in this way makes falling into loneliness much less likely. And they have resources to support non-members, too.”
The report shows that much work is being done by faith groups in four main areas: supplying friendly meeting spaces, or “drop-in” centres, as well as home visits and one-to-one contacts; developing long-term relationships with the lonely; offering holistic pathways to meet a range of needs; and developing a shared vision among the people they work with, allowing them not just to receive, but also to give back through ongoing input and volunteering.
It points out that while “social prescribing” by GPs is a part of the Government’s new strategy, “A Connected Society”, in which “link workers” in the surgeries direct the lonely to groups and activities that could help them, some doctors are reluctant to refer people to faith-based organisations. “Given the size of the faith sector, and the breadth of its offer, it is crucial that those who want to access its services are able to do so. For social prescribing to miss out the faith sector would be for it to miss a trick,” the report says.
“Faith-based organisations are undertaking a huge amount of activity to tackle loneliness and isolation, and to help people feel that they belong. Let’s ensure that the power of what they do becomes fully part of the drive to tackle loneliness across the whole of our society.”