HomeBlogTackling the social disconnection crisis: a manifesto

Tackling the social disconnection crisis: a manifesto

A national charity in the UK has produced a new manifesto with recommendations for the next government to build social connection. Here’s what they said. 

Earlier this year, the US Surgeon General highlighted the influence of social disconnection on the health and well-being of citizens. This statement was followed in October by the results of a survey conducted in 142 countries, according to which a quarter of the world's population - more than a billion people - reported feeling lonely, data that would highlight the global nature of a phenomenon that affects not only our two countries, Spain and the United Kingdom, but all corners of the world.

Worryingly, loneliness in the UK continues to rise. There are now half a million more chronically lonely people than before the Covid-19 pandemic, affecting both young and old people.

People from different backgrounds and generations are increasingly living apart. And all this after local communities came together so strongly during the pandemic.

What has become very clear is that strong social connections are not a nice extra, but instead fundamental to our health. A lack of social connection can be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, with an increased likelihood of strokes, heart attacks, anxiety, depression, and dementia. Not only is social disconnection a public health crisis, but it is a political one, too. Democracy is weakened by lower levels of social cohesion and empathy between different groups.

Though there is a growing crisis of social disconnection, the UK has shown leadership on this issue. In 2018 the then Prime Minister Theresa May appointed the world’s first Loneliness Minister within her government, and this was followed by the publication of a dedicated Loneliness Strategy. The strategy recognised that tackling loneliness requires every government department to take action, whether on housing, transport, or education, and gave funding to local organisations.

But clearly, more needs to be done. That’s why at The Cares Family, a national charity bringing together older and younger people, we published ‘Building Connection: A Manifesto’ in July, setting out key recommendations for what the next UK government can do to create a more connected country. With our next election due by January 2025, now is a key moment for making our case.

First, we recommend the launch of a new Loneliness and Social Connection Strategy to give the issue a new focus. The funding and prominence given to loneliness since the 2018 strategy has lessened, and the pandemic has lent a new urgency to the problem.

Second, tied to this strategy should be the appointment of a dedicated Minister for Loneliness and Social Connection, whose main responsibilities would be to create stronger connections between people of different backgrounds and generations. Social connection can no longer be an afterthought.

Third, more needs to be done to share insights and evidence on what works when it comes to building connection, to develop new research and tools, and to support community leaders bringing people together in their areas. We recommend a new Centre for Social Connection is established to achieve these goals.

It is important to pay attention to where funding can come from to boost social connection. There is growing evidence that social media has a negative impact on connection and loneliness, with one study finding that people who limit their use to 30 minutes per day have significant reductions in loneliness and depression compared to those who don’t. The manifesto recommends an extra 0.5% levy on the profits of social media companies to help fund programmes bringing people together for face-to-face connection.

Finally, handing more power to local communities would help massively in bringing people together. With the UK one of the most centralised countries in Europe, the Labour Party has said it intends to move more power away from central government. It has committed to a ‘Community Right to Buy’ which would give communities the chance to take control of pubs, historic buildings, football clubs and other sites in disrepair or up for sale. The We’re Right Here campaign, which The Cares Family is helping to lead, wants to go further through a Community Power Act.

So, while new evidence shows loneliness and social connection to be a global crisis, there are actions we can take to tackle this urgent problem. How each country does this will of course depend on the local context, the programmes already in place to strengthen connection, and how different tiers of national and local government work. The manifesto recommendations made by The Cares Family don’t necessarily translate directly to Spain or other countries.

But what we hope they show is that there are clear steps the UK government can take to meet the social disconnection crisis head on – and that all governments can show national leadership on this urgent issue.


Former Head of Policy and Campaigns at The Cares Family, and now helping to lead the We're Right Here campaign for community power

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