Charities and organisations have called on the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to lead from the front and ensure that Scotland becomes the world leader in tackling loneliness and isolation.
The demand comes two weeks after the UK government published its loneliness strategy with over 55 commitments and a multi-million-pound fund.
It is three years since the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities Committee report called on the Scottish government to develop a loneliness strategy. Its plan is due to be published by the end of the year.
The Action Group on Isolation and Loneliness in Scotland (AGIL), which is made up of charities and organisations, including Age Scotland, Befriending Networks, British Red Cross and Campaign to End Loneliness among others, has made six requests of the first minister ahead of the strategy’s publication.
The group is calling for a loneliness task force; an evaluation of relevant legislation to ensure the impact of policies on loneliness and isolation is considered as part of the legislative process; seek ways to improve planning systems, housing, health and community policies to ensure the country is ready to respond to loneliness challenges; monitor trends; set up a tackling loneliness fund; and encourage business leaders to help kick-start ideas about the role that they can play.
Chronic loneliness affects mental and physical health, from increased risks of depression, anxiety and dementia, to a higher risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. It is estimated that loneliness costs the NHS £12,000 per person affected.
Brian Sloan (pictured), Age Scotland chief executive on behalf of AGIL, said: ‘The steps the Scottish government has already taken to address this issue are positive, but it now needs to become a top priority of the first minister. The Scottish draft strategy to tackle loneliness may have been the first of its kind, but since then other countries have overtaken us.
‘Loneliness does not discriminate by age, gender, community, background or wealth, but we know that older people are most likely to be affected. Right now there are 100,000 older people who feel lonely all or most of the time and double that number go at least half a week without as much as a conversation with anyone. Now is the time for Scotland to be bold in its approach.’
A Scottish government spokesperson said: ‘Social isolation and loneliness can affect anyone, at all ages and stages of life. We know there is also a link between loneliness and poor physical and mental health and that this can impact on everyday life. We are leading the way when it comes to tackling this and later this year we’ll publish the final version of our national strategy to address loneliness and isolation.
‘This is an important issue and we hope that our strategy will be the first step towards building a more connected Scotland where social isolation and loneliness are reduced.’