Matt Vickers is the MP for Stockton South. He is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness.
Are you itching for things to get back to normal?
Are you looking forward to that holiday, trip to the pub, meal with friends?
Like me, do you feel like you’ve been cooped up at home forever, and are just bursting to live a full life again?
What is it you’re missing most?
A long walk on a sandy beach? That first cold frothy pint? Your favourite restaurant’s fish and chips?
Probably. But it’s bigger than that, isn’t it?
It’s the people we miss most.
As lockdown eases and we venture out more, it’s the people we’re looking forward to seeing – our family, friends, and workmates; people we connect with at our football matches, bingo halls, and places of worship.
For many, that will be easy but, for some, they will face challenges that make it harder to get back to normal because lockdown has compounded their isolation and loneliness.
A new British Red Cross report – Life after lockdown – reveals how big those challenges are and, this week, I chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness where we discussed its findings. What the report shows is that lockdown is affecting some people more than others.
People from Black, Asian and minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, younger people, those on lower incomes or unemployed, people who live alone, those with underlying health conditions, and parents with children at home are the loneliest of all.
As many as 41 per cent of UK adults surveyed feel lonelier since lockdown began, with 33 per cent saying they haven’t had a meaningful conversation in the last week. We all have work to do to help people connect and feel part of their communities again.
At this week’s APPG, we heard from 22-year-old Harry Foreman from the Co-op Foundation’s Lonely Not Alone campaign and he told us of his experiences graduating from university and suddenly having to leave behind some of his closest friends during the Covid-19 crisis. He said:
“There’s no handbook for graduating during a pandemic.”
But that’s true for all of us, isn’t it? We’ll all have to adapt in some way.
I’m lucky to be part of a vibrant community in Stockton and have been inspired by the sight of volunteers – both organised and spontaneous – who have been helping the most vulnerable with things shopping and other essentials.
I’ve been trying to play my part too, teaming up with Age UK to help constituents who are feeling lonely.
That spirit must blossom beyond this crisis because people were feeling very lonely before lockdown and many are feeling lonelier because of it – they’re going to need our help as we recover. Members of Parliament have a big role to play.
We must argue for sustained funding for services that help people overcome loneliness while looking to find ways of addressing the reasons why people become so lonely in the first place, like financial hardship and mental health.
We can champion approaches to health like social prescribing that put the focus on activity and interaction, helping people connect and improve their wellbeing through groups, classes, and events.
Rather than looking just at medical options, we need to look at social solutions – doing something you enjoy, meeting other people, forging quality relationships, feeling less lonely, feeling healthier.
It’s clear that, whenever we look at people’s health, there are inequalities at play in our society that impact on our ability to thrive, strive and prosper – MPs have to be at the forefront when it comes to tackling those too.
We can perhaps see loneliness as a signifier that other things may be going wrong in a person’s life and get to work addressing those issues and health concerns.
The Red Cross, Age UK, Mind, Sense, and many others have been supporting people throughout this emergency and will continue to do so when the crisis is over.
The examples of this sort of good work in my own constituency are just too numerous to mention and I know those people who have leapt to action to support others will want to continue to play their part in helping the most vulnerable.
Now is not the time to simply salute that good work alone. Now is the time to build on it.