Loneliness is an epidemic, and one that’s as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  

Chronic loneliness cuts lives short, devastates people’s mental health and can affect anyone of any age, with more young people reporting feeling lonely than ever before.

Last week marked Loneliness Awareness Week (June 12 to 16), and there were events in Haringey and across the country to try to build connections and break down the stigma people can feel from saying that they’re lonely.

For too many people, the terrible isolation of the pandemic didn’t end when lockdown was over. It is a daily presence in their lives, and one that the cost-of-living crisis has made worse. Opportunities for people to meet and build relationships disappear when services are shut down, people can’t afford their trips out, or public spaces fall into disrepair. 

Since the pandemic, I’ve been visiting sheltered housing schemes and care homes across Hornsey and Wood Green to survey residents about the issues that concern them. 

 Ham & High: Catherine West wearing the British Red Cross 'Tackling Loneliness Together' badgeCatherine West wearing the British Red Cross 'Tackling Loneliness Together' badge (Image: Office of Catherine West)

I’ve been concerned and saddened by how often people talk about loneliness. Older people in my survey said they often or always felt lonely and the cuts to basic services such as podiatry, dentistry and befriending have had a devastating effect on their wellbeing. Age UK’s latest research found it’s an issue affecting almost one million older people across the UK. 

In Parliament this month I challenged the deputy prime minister about the loss of these vital services that have been the victim of 13 years of successive Conservative governments promising, and failing, to reform social care.  

These basic services make a real difference to people’s lives and the Campaign to End Loneliness has found that for every £1 invested in tackling loneliness, we can save £3 in health costs. Failing to act doesn’t even make financial sense.

It was my dear colleague Jo Cox who first set up a cross-party loneliness commission and after her death, the British Red Cross and Co-op Partnership was tasked with securing a lasting legacy for this work.  

I’m proud to support their efforts to encourage people to talk openly about how they feel and reach out to friends and loved ones.  

Connection matters and if you’re struggling, you can find help at:

Catherine West is Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green