Working to combat loneliness
I’ve long admired the work of Age UK and in particular their campaign to ‘Help end loneliness’.
The campaign and its related programs such as ‘Call in time befriend’ are part of a range of strategies to combat loneliness among the elderly in the UK.
Loneliness is not experience only by the elderly and other mainstream organisations are also active in promoting greater connection and friendships (Act Belong Commit here in WA and Oprah Winfrey ‘Just say hello’ campaign). The Age UK program is however particularly focussed on the elderly.
The video below gives us a 10 minute glimpse into what loneliness is like for one older women.
I was interested therefore to read a recent article published in the Guardian which explored the link between income and loneliness.
What role income on loneliness?
One startling statistic shared in the story was that research had identified that
“people with low incomes were twice as likely to be lonely and six times more likely to be socially isolated”
It is a connection that when explained, you have an ‘aha’ or a ‘but of course’ moment – but otherwise you might not have readily thought of.
Obviously income is only one element of loneliness but it could be a significant one.
The article also explores the diminishing community resources that are free or low-cost thereby further reducing option for connection and community for those on a low-income.
Surprisingly income as a contributing factor was not identified in the recently released Aged and Community Services Australia Issues Paper (ACSA) No.1 Social Isolation and loneliness among older Australians (a paper I highly recommend to you). There was reference to ‘socio-demographic’ factors but income itself was not mentioned.
The Guardian article goes on to say
“Experts have been linking economic inequality and social inequality for a long time, arguing that healthy social networks and a lot of face-to-face contact are new forms of privilege – with the rich having more of them and the rest of us having less”
So a limited income and the cost of participation in activities, or the difficult to access facilities such as libraries or communal spaces, may be impacting on loneliness among the elderly as much as a loss of existing friendships and family connections.
As often happens another article comes along as if by accident which further extends this discussion on loneliness.
The article How our housing choices make adult friendship more difficult, out of the US, argued that the urban landscape contributes to loneliness (which in part was raised by the Guardian article).
It looked at the history of homo sapiens as tribal clans and how our urban landscapes and ‘personal castles’ make connection difficult because of distances.
They argue that for connection and friendship to be created and fostered we need “passive and brief connections’ and that therefore we need an urban landscape that facilitates “proximity, repeated, unplanned interactions and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down”.
Loneliness a wicked problem needing innovation solutions
I know this isn’t an easy issue with simple causes or solutions – perhaps more a ‘wicked problem’.
I agree with the ACSA paper that the connection between “loneliness and social isolation is not a simple one … and the causes … are varied and multifaceted” but in looking for solutions as the ACSA paper is doing we also need to look at low cost or free solutions and make access a priority.
We also need to debate issues of income and urban landscape that support community and connection.
In closing I will share an image from one community that has incorporated public open space and encourages connection – for as they say ‘a picture is worth more than a thousand words’.