Jo Crease, CEO of Together Co.

This is a terribly polite way of saying that you cannot starve local government (especially social care), of funds on one hand, and then bemoan the loneliness epidemic on the other. 

I was excited last year when I heard a government Loneliness Strategy was to be published, although I have to confess my hopes were not high for an ambitious strategy tackling the many and complex causes of loneliness. And it did indeed present as a disappointing document, bringing together various existing ideas, very limited additional funds and a pointed absence of recognition of the impact of austerity politics on the connectedness of our communities.

It seems the authors of the Loneliness Action Group One Year On report agree, as they start by observing ‘…while progress is on track in many areas, this has often been a product of the relative modesty of the original pledges’ (p.7) and finish by observing ‘while positive work is being done…the wider context of cuts, particularly to local government funding, continues to heavily impact the social infrastructure upon which people rely to support their connections.‘ p.37

This is a terribly polite way of saying that you cannot starve local government (especially social care), of funds on one hand, and then bemoan the loneliness epidemic on the other. Well, you can if you like. But you’d be plain wrong to think there is no connection between the two.

I want to pick out just one of the key areas identified in the report in this blog, because there is a critical window of opportunity right now to make the absolute most of what resource there is in the system to impact significantly on loneliness.

Social prescribing must work for loneliness and isolation, and it must be focused on what clients/patients/people need. And this must be based on the deep and sophisticated understanding that already exists in localities about connecting with people, supporting, motivating and empowering people to reach out, to make and to sustain human connections.

Primary Care Networks (PCNs) are indeed being established, and are indeed looking at how they can deliver social prescribing. In areas such as Brighton & Hove, where we have spent the last 5 years developing social prescribing, we are in a great position to build an ever further-reaching service.

I would strongly support the Loneliness Action Group recommendations on social prescribing and how to make this work for loneliness (p.19), they are all sensible and will have a positive impact if implemented.

But I’d also go further.

Making social prescribing work for loneliness (and isolation, and mental health, and all the other issues people are referred to us with) means PCNs and the health infrastructures must:

  • Build on existing social prescribing work with funding, data, enthusiasm and open-minds.
  • Welcome working with existing community social prescribing providers – ask them to share their expertise on how to bring this impactful approach into your practice.
  • Recognise that this is a community-based response, it is the social model of health, treating people as assets – don’t NHS-ise it.
  • Fund what is needed for quality, not the cheapest thing you can get away with. Preventative work takes time, and it takes trusted relationships and expert practitioners – these aren’t, and shouldn’t be, cheap.

Learning from the locals allows us to build bridges, capitalise on local experience and helps ensure our next steps are in the right direction. 

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