Loneliness Taskforce calls for funding of €3m to combat isolation

‘Unnecessary loneliness’ is a problem for rural and urban people of all ages

Students can go four or five days without speaking to anyone in college. Photograph: Getty Images

Students can go four or five days without speaking to anyone in college. Photograph: Getty Images

 

“I am in college in Queen’s University Belfast, and I’m finding it very hard...meeting people and that. It’s Monday afternoon and I realise I have spoken to nobody since last Thursday...I’m lonely. There you go, I’ve finally said it”.

So said a student, one of more than 300 contributors to the Loneliness Taskforce, an all-Ireland body set up by Senator Keith Swanick in collaboration with Seán Moynihan of the charity Alone.

Among those who contributed to the report were many people living in rural isolation but also others who work in large organisations where they find they can spend a day without speaking to colleagues in a meaningful way, or at all.

As another contributor said: “I have a good job but isolation is also at work in the public sector, where there are cliques at work...It is 10 years since I was on a holiday, I went on my own and that was lonely so never again, and over 20 years since I visited my local town at night. I would love to go for dinner in a restaurant, but sitting there on my own would destroy me.”

Rural isolation

Rural isolation is a big issue among the elderly in particular, with even contributors who described themselves as healthy and “independently comfortable” reporting that their home phones ring about once a month and that they go to coffee shops just to hear another human voice. “Isolation is a major part of loneliness; I am currently living in rural Ireland...In the recent bad weather not one person called to me to see if I was okay – oh and by the way, I am 76,” said one. The report, entitled A Connected Ireland, said annual funding of €3million was needed for a public campaign, initiatives to combat loneliness and further research.

It noted the appointment in the UK of a government minister for loneliness and while it does not recommend this in Ireland it does recommend that responsibility for loneliness be part of a minister’s job, in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. It recommended pilot projects be set up in rural and urban areas to combat loneliness . It said modules on loneliness should be developed for schools, and local and national organisations should be encourage to promote inclusion and encourage membership.

It also recommended improved broadband connectivity and rural transport links.

Unnecessary isolation

Dr Swanick, a Fianna Fáil Senator and spokesperson on mental health, said reducing “unnecessary loneliness and isolation” was a challenge, “but it is achievable.”

He said the cohort of people aged over 70 was growing faster than the rest of the population and this required careful consideration.

But he also said it was evident from the submissions that loneliness is not confined to the old “and the rise in single-person households plus the increased pressures on young people are also contributing to loneliness”.

Seán Moynihan, chief executive of Alone, urged all members of the Government to “not just read this report, but to act on the recommendations we have made.”