Did we need a Minister for Loneliness?

I was delighted to hear the news that Tracey Crouch has been appointed as Minister for Loneliness.

We know that loneliness kills – it’s potentially more harmful than smoking or obesity.

I meet hundreds of people each year who would describe themselves as lonely. As one woman told me on a visit to a local community partner in Sheffield: “I was so depressed sitting at home with no-one except daytime TV. I just had to get out of the house.”

It’s great to know that the lonely people I’m meeting are now getting the essential social interaction that they need – through the Online Centres Network.

Volunteers and workers in our communities deal with lonely people every day. Good Things Foundation works with community venues across the UK – the Online Centres Network – and people come to get support to use the internet either for the first time or to get to grips with the basics, and so many of them say it is also important that it’s a chance to get out of the house and meet other people.

Bob Dunkerley, one of our 2 Millionth Learners from last year’s award ceremony, said: “Going along to Starting Point (his local Online Centre), for me, it’s a bit of a community that provides a necessary service for people who are on their own, especially older people. I need something in my life to give me an incentive to do things. The laptop training and companionship at Starting Point can do that.“

It isn’t just our digital skills learners that overcome loneliness by going along to centres. We’re a social change charity as much as we are a digital inclusion one, and projects like English My Way are vital in helping to tackle the loneliness issue. A video we released last year really demonstrates the camaraderie amongst one group of women at Online Centre Neighbours in Poplar:

Models that both empower people in a digital world and which provide face-to-face, community-based support are a powerful way to overcome loneliness.

Centres within the Online Centres Network provide an informal approach to help people overcome the issues they’re facing. That’s what an informal approach is all about, it’s focused on the person – what they need to do, and in the way and the pace that suits them.

Congratulations to you Tracey on taking up this vital role. It’s great to see the government making a commitment to such a pressing issue and I welcome the cross-sector and co-ordinated approach that will be taken.

I hope the community sector will play a significant role in cross-Government work around loneliness.

Tracey, you’re very welcome to come and visit an Online Centre and see this important work for yourself. Meeting the people who are taking such transformative journeys into the digital society and into happiness.

How digital can help lonely youths

I’m always talking about digital skills and how important it is for people to have them, but at Tinder Foundation our focus is not always on digital skills alone. Our goal is to have a world where everyone benefits from digital, especially those who are socially excluded, and recently we sat on the steering group of a loneliness project being run by ACEVO (the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) to see how we could help tackle loneliness amongst young people and contribute to their report, ‘Coming in from the Cold’, which was recently launched.

The numbers

The report contains some interesting findings. Until now there has been little in-depth research into youth loneliness, but this report is attempting to kick-start that research by using London as a test case to examine the causes and propose solutions. Focussing on people aged 16-32 the report estimates that the health, crime and unemployment costs – in part associated with loneliness – in London adds up to £34.5 billion. Young people who suffer from loneliness can often also have poor physical and mental health, a suppression of future job/earning opportunities or a drift into gangland culture.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 12.01.37

Image courtesy of ACEVO ‘Coming in from the Cold’

In a 2014 national survey by GetConnected, 34% of all people say that they often feel lonely but in 18-24-year-olds this number increases to 48%.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 12.04.04

The survey showed that 64% of 18-24-year-olds in London contacted GetConnected about loneliness. Image courtesy of ACEVO ‘Coming in from the Cold’

Although not specifically recommended in the report, digital can play a part in tackling youth loneliness and in turn, tackling the associated problems. Through technology young people have access to a world of possibilities: they can connect with other people through email or on social networks like Facebook and Instagram to combat loneliness – online dating could be useful here too; they can use the internet to explore any health issues they may have; or they can surf the web for job adverts and apply online. I really do believe that digital technology can be a powerful tool here in reaching that 48%, we just need to make young people aware of how they can utilise it.

A great example

We put together a case study for the report (you can find this on page 50) about the great work being done by our local partner and UK online centre, HEBA Women’s Project. Located on Brick Lane in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the project was originally set up to help BAME women in the area to learn English and develop their sewing skills. But through this approach HEBA then take the opportunity to introduce technology to their learners as soon as possible, helping them to gain confidence in using computers and the internet. Many of them quickly learn that the internet can extend their horizons and begin to go online to look for jobs and explore their interests – as well as making friends at the centre.

Last year they supported over 100 young women who were able to use their newfound skills to form connections with their local communities and beyond, in turn reducing their feelings of loneliness.

Read the report

There are so many social issues out there that a lot of people aren’t aware of, that technology could pose a solution for. It’s sad to read that 83% of 18-34-year-olds are ‘often, always or sometimes’ lonely and I feel like we can do a lot more to help. Thank you to ACEVO for allowing us to participate in this research, which has given us valuable insight into how we can help with this often overlooked social issue. Hopefully this London test case will be the start of something big. You can read the report here.