Leeds MP warns loneliness is ‘structured into society’

MP Rachel Reeves.
MP Rachel Reeves.
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LONELINESS has become “structured into society” and fresh thinking on health and social care with “a new kind” of welfare system is needed if we are to make a concerted attack on the crisis, a Yorkshire MP will say today.

In a speech ahead of the launch of a major report on tackling the issue, Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, co-chair of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, will tell London’s Policy Exchange that loneliness has escalated from “personal misfortune into a social epidemic”

She will urge everybody to re-examine how they live their lives in an effort to combat the “epidemic” and set out a radical strategy for social, technological and political change needed to tackle what Mrs Cox herself described as the “shocking crisis” of loneliness.

Ms Reeves will say: “The crisis of loneliness exposes the limits of our welfare state. It is a deep challenge to our models of social reform. Top down, target driven, payment by results, bureaucratic, Whitehall lever pulling – they won’t work.

“We need a new kind of welfare system that acts as a convenor bringing people together to help them help themselves.”

The Yorkshire Post exclusively revealed that Mrs Cox, the then-Labour MP for Batley, was launching a cross-party commission to investigate loneliness on the second anniversary of our Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign, in February last year. Just four months later Mrs Cox, who pledged to “blow the lid” on the loneliness crisis, was murdered while working in her constituency.

In the months after her death, her Labour colleague and friend Ms Reeves and Conservative MP for South Ribble, Seema Kennedy, did exactly that, and took forward her work as co-chairs of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, which launched in January.

During her speech today, Ms Reeves will pay tribute to her friend and speak of her desire to tackling the “suffering” felt by those who are lonely.

She will say: “For Jo, however big and complex a problem there was always a solution to it.

“And loneliness is a big and complex problem.”

She will go to say: “Loneliness has become a public health issue. Growing numbers of people are unable to respond to their loneliness and connect to others. And it is not just a personal problem.

“Loneliness has become structured into society and often we cannot overcome it without help.

“When we lose the social life of relationships we need, we are vulnerable to illness and death.”

Ms Reeves will say that no single big policy will defeat loneliness, but set out a detailed plan for change. “Social change needs millions of small changes,” she will say. “We need to create new institutions, services and organisations that connect people with one another. And we need to think how we can use new technologies to expand connectivity not social isolation and enrich rather than impoverish society.”

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