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  • Writer's pictureMartin Blake

Loneliness and social isolation: a priority focus for governments

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

The number of adults who experience social isolation and chronic loneliness is estimated to be a staggering 1 in 3. Such is the social impact of this issue, it’s being prioritised at the highest levels of government in the UK. The Groundswell Foundation in Australia has begun to open up channels of communication with the UK Government to share data, policy successes and research for everyone’s benefit.


Martin Blake, Chairman iHelm Pty Ltd at 10 Downing St
Connected, but disconnected.
 

Key Information:

  • The Groundswell Foundation has forged connections with the highest levels of UK Government to share the information about loneliness and mental health needed to deliver meaningful change.

  • It’s inspiring to see the UK Government treating the challenge with the seriousness it deserves.

  • The UK Government’s Loneliness Strategy has three core objectives:

  1. Reducing stigma of loneliness.

  2. Driving a lasting shift so that relationships and loneliness are considered in policymaking.

  3. Playing our part in improving the evidence base on loneliness.

 

Stepping through the famous black front door of 10 Downing Street into the beating heart of the UK Government in April 2022 was both inspiring and energising. I was there to make connections and explore how the Government is prioritising and devoting resources to the pressing issue of loneliness and mental health.


Accompanying me on this discovery mission was Australian businessman and social entrepreneur Geoff Ross, Executive Chairman of We Therapy. Geoff and I were welcomed by Chloe Westley, Special Advisor to the UK Prime Minister, whose lived experience has heightened her awareness of the stigma attached to mental health and loneliness. I was delighted to present Chloe with a copy of Joel Ramirez’s book Better Together: Why loneliness is killing us and what we can do about it (https://www.joelramirez.net). I met with Joel in Sydney in early March 2022 and learned about his tremendous struggles with chronic loneliness and severe depression. He wrote his book to outline his personal journey and to discover what can be done to encourage resilience and help us all to lead happier lives.


I presented Joel’s book to Chloe as a gift to inform both her thinking and the Prime Minister’s on the research Joel had undertaken in Australia.


Martin Blake, Geoff Ross, Chloe Westley 10 Downing St
Martin Blake, Geoff Ross, Chloe Westley

While in Whitehall, we met Charlotte Hill, Senior Policy Advisor, Tackling Loneliness Team, from the Department for Digital, Culture and Sport. With introductions facilitated by Stephen Cartwright, NSW Agent General UK, our goal was to share the Terms of Reference for the Loneliness Research soon to be undertaken by the Groundswell Foundation in Australia and discuss the UK Government’s work over the last decade on loneliness.


The focus of our discussions was on collaboration, policy initiatives, what worked and hasn’t worked, strategy, funding, innovative campaigns, and supporting the development of an evidence base on loneliness.




Learning about the UK’s experiences and decade-long focus on loneliness has been invaluable and the discussions materially added to our understanding of the steps that can be taken in Australia and elsewhere to address issues related to loneliness. We agreed to continue to build connections, share data and discuss policy successes, benchmarks and research to deliver meaningful social change.


Martin Blake, Dr Alex George, 10 Downing St
Martin Blake, Dr Alex George

We were also introduced by Chloe Westley to Dr Alex George, appointed in 2021 as the Youth Mental Health Ambassador by Prime Minister Johnson. Dr Alex is recognised as a high-profile influencer and advocate for mental health in young people in the UK. He has been instrumental in bringing attention to the issue at the highest levels of Government, including the Prime Minister. You can see a video of Dr Alex and the UK Prime Minister meeting young people to talk about mental health. We shared with Dr Alex the Groundswell Foundation’s Terms of Reference as the first step in an agreed cooperation to share research insights, data and successes to influence and enable change.




Loneliness Strategy

The UK Government’s work on tackling loneliness is headed up by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport under Minister Nigel Huddleston. The work builds on the 2018 Loneliness Strategy

UK Government's 2018 Loneliness Strategy Objectives

  1. Reducing stigma by building the national conversation on loneliness, so that people feel able to talk about loneliness and reach out for help.

  2. Driving a lasting shift so that relationships and loneliness are considered in policymaking and delivery by organisations across society, supporting and amplifying the impact of organisations that are connecting people.

  3. Playing our part in improving the evidence base on loneliness, making a compelling case for action, and ensuring everyone has the information they need to make informed decisions through challenging times.

These objectives align perfectly with the Groundswell Foundation's three pillars:



Loneliness is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time. It’s inspiring to see that the UK Government is treating the challenge with the seriousness it deserves, having added loneliness to several ministerial portfolios in 2018 and making an active decision to incorporate it into ongoing policy decisions.


Our meetings have successfully opened channels of communications between the UK Government and the Groundswell Foundation to share the information needed to deliver meaningful change.


"Through our high-level discussions, I was struck by the powerful influence 10 Downing St brought to convening, activating, and bringing together people and stakeholders across the public and private sectors. There’s a real sense of commitment and urgency in bringing leadership to, investing in and implementing policy and processes that will have a measurable impact on the wellbeing of young people and those around them." Martin Blake, Chairman, iHelm Pty Ltd
 

The Groundswell Foundation aims to bring together Australia’s most influential and experienced leaders to raise awareness of the challenges associated with mental health and loneliness, and to effect meaningful change.


Sources:

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