At a time when technology has brought us together in so many ways, some people feel less socially connected than ever before. That is why our strategy to tackle loneliness in England, published today, is so important. Spearheaded by Loneliness Minister Tracey Crouch, there will be a cross-Government effort to build a nation connected by strong social relationships and where loneliness carries no stigma or shame.
It builds on the legacy of Jo Cox, who did so much to raise awareness of this issue. Loneliness may not be a new problem but it is certainly an increasingly urgent one. It is possible to shop, travel and interact without any human contact, fuelling people’s experience of loneliness.
Social media especially is often highlighted as a cause of loneliness, particularly among young people. But the picture is more nuanced. The extent to which it increases or reduces loneliness could depend on what platform is used, and whether it is used as a substitute for real life interaction or to complement it.
As Secretary of State for our world-leading digital sector, I recognise these problems but also see the opportunities that technology can bring. For example, there are applications that help new mums stay more connected through the difficult early stages of parenthood, or products that use artificial intelligence to provide real life experiences for those unable to leave the house.
And of course, it helps thousands of older people who are less mobile, stay in touch with friends and family all over the world. The key is how can we harness the positive applications of digital technology, while ensuring that online harms are limited. The Daily Telegraph is doing valuable work in highlighting this issue through its Duty of Care campaign.
Tracey Crouch and Margot James, the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries will host a roundtable with tech companies to explore their impact on loneliness and how they can help prevent it. We will also work closely with technology companies to support the development of products that help tackle loneliness and help people forge meaningful connections.
We want everyone to have the skills and tools they need to make the most of the opportunities the digital world provides. Some of our new £400,000 Digital Inclusion Innovation Fund will be used to support projects aimed at increasing the digital inclusion of older and disabled people, two groups at greater risk of both digital exclusion and loneliness.
Our strategy sets out a powerful vision for how Government and civil society will come together on this important issue. Every day at DCMS, I see the importance of the ties that bind us – the sports clubs and youth clubs, the churches and the charities, the arts projects, the libraries and the community groups of all sorts that bring people together.
These strong social connections are an integral part of living healthy and successful lives and we all have a part to play in making them stronger. That is why I am so pleased that so many organisations are taking part in this work, from the Red Cross to Royal Mail.
This strategy represents a significant first step towards a more socially connected society and country, where families, friends and communities are stronger in the digital age.
Six tips | To beat loneliness
- When you meet up with close friends, talk about your feelings not just your jobs or families. Being honest about your life helps people feel closer to you.
- Plan holidays or birthdays well in advance so that you are never lonely at times when it really matters.
- Invite out a new person – someone you’ve met in the last month. Take them to a play, film, or out for supper.
- If you have feelings of loneliness at work, fill your lunch hour with an enjoyable activity: listen to a play on your iPad or start learning a language.
- Give yourself permission to say no to events where you can’t take a plus one – I finally realised this after an agonising wedding party last summer.
- Don’t wait for someone to call or email – contact them. If they’re busy it doesn’t mean they are rejecting you. Try again.