Call for single government body to tackle social isolation

The Government is being urged to appoint one department to battle loneliness and social isolation.

The Loneliness Taskforce, established by the charity Alone, along with Dr Keith Swanick, is to report on isolation next month.

It wants to increase awareness about the issue and to produce a set of recommendations for government, state agencies, and policymakers. The task force has received 300 submissions from members of the public, as well as from organisations.

Seán Moynihan, chief executive of Alone, said the responses from government departments show that none has a catch-all responsibility for loneliness, given the rural/urban and age mixes. Therefore, he said the report will have to feature a recommendation as to where the responsibility should lie.

He pointed out that, earlier this year, Britain appointed a minister for loneliness.

Mr Moynihan said the submissions came from a mix of rural and urban, young and old. A number of submissions came from organisations working in the area, who detailed their services and outlined how those services could be expanded to a national level. Others came from individuals who are lonely.

They detailed how it affects them and also welcomed the fact there is something being done to combat the problem.

Mr Moynihan said the report would consider awareness of loneliness, public policy, the research that was needed, and the role of the community and volunteers within that community. It is Alone’s experience that one in 10 elderly people struggle with loneliness, making it a public health issue which shortens people’s lives.

We look forward to making progress with our report and presenting it to the Government, and we hope that meaningful action is taken, as a result.

“Loneliness is not something to be brushed off — it is a public health issue, one that needs serious consideration,” he said.

Dr Swanick, who is chairman of the Loneliness Taskforce, said: “As a GP, in my practice in rural Ireland, I often see the profound medical and mental health problems which are often exacerbated by loneliness.

I am well aware, however, that loneliness crosses the rural-urban divide and I witnessed the same problems a number of years ago, as a GP, in the heart of Finglas.

“Through the submissions we have received, the Taskforce has heard from people who are young, new parents, those who are divorced or a single parent, from people with disabilities, returning emigrants, home-carers and entrepreneurs. We can say, with certainty, that loneliness never discriminates between young and old, rich and poor, or urban and rural.”

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