Loneliness is not new, it's something that churches have been actively tackling for a long time. But recent years have seen increased public consciousness of what has been called a loneliness “epidemic” in the UK, helped in part by the work of groups like the Jo Cox Commission and the Campaign to End Loneliness.
The Commission revealed in 2017, for example, that over 9 million people in the UK say they ‘always’ or ‘often’ feel lonely. Studies have further underlined the public health risks of loneliness. For example:
Weak social connection is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Loneliness and social isolation are associated with increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke.
Loneliness is a risk factor for depression, cognitive decline and dementia.
All this made an impression on our Government, who in 2018 appointed a minister with responsibility for loneliness (a world first) and published a national strategy.
In the intervening years we’ve had a wave of activity from our public institutions aiming to help turn the tide.
The NHS Long Term Plan promised to fund link workers and strengthen social prescribing schemes.
The Government funded a national loneliness campaign.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Loneliness launched an enquiry.
In Theresa May’s foreword to the loneliness strategy, she describes a Churches Together community lunch in her own constituency serving Christmas dinner to individuals who would otherwise have been alone. This is just one example of the kinds of things we know churches are doing day in, day out, nationwide: encouraging community, fostering belonging and facilitating friendship. It’s nothing more than living out Jesus’ call to “love our neighbours”.
To say it again: tackling loneliness isn’t new work for the church. It is the bread and butter of so much of what we do. The Government may be three years into its strategy to tackle loneliness but we are old hands.
That’s why, in 2017, Christians Together Against Loneliness was formed. To gather like-minded organisations to help further equip the church, mobilise common resources and provide a collective voice into government initiatives at this strategic time.