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Scottish Conservatives call for greater focus on youth loneliness

The Scottish Conservatives are calling for increased awareness of youth loneliness, greater social prescribing and a national awareness campaign in advance of the Scottish Government’s Loneliness strategy.

Annie Wells MSP has published a Loneliness Action Plan which includes measures that focus on loneliness in all age groups, increases national awareness of the growing issue and increases the use of technology.

The Scottish Conservative Loneliness Action Plan would:

  • Increase Focus on Youth Loneliness
  • Improve Social Prescribing
  • Connect Communities
  • Implement a National Awareness Campaign
  • Support Innovation

The consultation on the Scottish Government Loneliness Strategy closed seven months ago and the SNP Government promised to publish the finished strategy by the end of this year.

For a growing number of people loneliness is a regular or permanent situation that can have significantly negative effects on their health and wellbeing. According to Age UK;

  • across the UK 3.6 million older people in the UK live alone, of whom over 2 million are aged 75+.
  • 9 million older people often feel ignored or invisible.
  • Loneliness can be as harmful for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
  • It can also lead to increased risk of dementia, depression and anxiety.

However, loneliness also affects young people. 40 percent of 16-24 years olds consider themselves lonely.

This suggests that loneliness is an increasing public health problem, which needs significant, targeted action across all age groups.

Scottish Conservative spokesperson on mental health, Annie Wells MSP said:


“Loneliness is a health problem which can have significant effects on those who feel alone, regardless of age.

“Particularly as we near Christmas there are many people who simply don’t have access to the company of others, or feel as though they are isolated, despite the many people around them.

“While the SNP Government’s consultation on loneliness was welcome, it is disappointing that we have had to wait so long for the results.

“The Scottish Conservative Loneliness Action Plan includes an increased focus on youth loneliness, raises awareness across the country and embraces new technological solutions to tackle this growing problem.

“As we near the end of 2018, the Year of Young People, it would be a fitting tribute for the SNP government to announce extra support to help bring different generations together.

“We must all be aware of the serious effects loneliness can have, so I hope the findings of the consultation will finally be published as soon as possible.”




Notes to editors:

The Scottish Conservative Loneliness Action Plan is below -

Increased Focus on Youth Loneliness

  • Recognise that loneliness affects young people too
  • ONS research found that almost 10% of people aged 16 to 24 were "always or often" lonely - the highest proportion of any age group.
  • Loneliness can be linked to a lack of permanence or sense of belonging - such as young renters who felt few connections to their local community. It can also be driven by social media and the "digital world".
  • Last September, the Girl Guides launched new badge to be earned through visits with elderly people, with 1.2 million in Britain estimated to be chronically lonely. This should be encouraged.
  • Explore how education on loneliness could be embedded into the curriculum so that children in primary and secondary school can learn about the value of social relationships
    • We live in a world that has become technologically savvy. While this has many benefits, it does mean that vital face-to-face interactions are decreasing.
    • Pupils should be taught about loneliness and the value of social relationships as part of the curriculum.
    • Where possible, pupils should be encouraged to get involved with national schemes such as the John Muir Award and Duke of Edinburgh or clubs such as Scouts or Girl Guiding.


Social Prescribing

  • Carry out a national survey on social prescribing within Scottish GPs
    • It’s crucial that we find innovative ways to link patients to primary care with sources of support within the community. A national survey on social prescribing would identify good practice, areas of concern and problems.
  • Launch an online social prescribing platform which is user friendly & up to date
    • Make better use of the social prescribing platforms that already exist (ALISS) using feedback from GPs. The platform should be up-to-date, easily accessible and user friendly.
    • The platform, available to GPs and the public, should be re-launched and widely publicised.
    • Digital technology should be used to promote ALISS through the creation of an ALISS app and online advertising on social media.


Connect Communities

  • Organisation of local conferences/away days so that GPs can develop relationships with local/third sector organisations
    • Building local relationships is a key aspect to the programme. Community Link Workers would build up knowledge of local services and develop positive relationships with them. They will then keep practice teams informed of new services, whilst also identifying any local service gaps.
  • Faster roll out of the Community Link Worker (CLW) Programme and ensure that CLWs are on full term contracts
    • A Community Link Worker is a generalist social practitioner based in GP Practices. 
    • The Scottish Government promised to employ 250 by the end of the parliamentary session. So far, there are just 56 - 38 of which are on fixed term contracts, some as little as 18 months.
    • They serve in communities with high levels of health inequalities. They encourage the patient to overcome barriers, by setting goals that will allow them to gain better control of their health. They support people to achieve their goals by helping them to identify and access resources in their local community.
    • A key aspect to the Community Link Worker programme is to have appointments that last longer than a GP consultation using “good conversations” that get to the heart of the problem. With their knowledge of local services and activates, the programme to date has helped a wide range of social, emotional and practical needs.
    • Evidence suggests that this programme is effective in combatting social isolation through social prescribing and building relationships of trust, and that it has a marked and measurable positive impact on patients’ health and wellbeing (Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland).


National Awareness Campaign

    • GPs and practice teams can’t beat loneliness on their own. There needs to be a national awareness campaign to encourage everyone to take action and check on their neighbours and get involved in their local community.
    • This is supported by the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland.
  • As part of this, call for a Scottish National Loneliness Day which recognises innovative ways of tackling loneliness across Scotland
  • This should be held in December to tie in with what for many, can be the loneliest time of year.


Supporting Innovation

  • Support intergenerational projects that would bring together children and old people, recognising that young people can also experience loneliness
    • For example, supporting a pilot project for a council nursery to be based in an old peoples’ home.
  • Maximising digital platforms for targeting those who may be lonely
    • Work with technology companies to post online adverts to encourage engagement in local community groups.
    • Support digital skills for older people.
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