Government announces £7.5m fund to fight loneliness in England

A volunteer phone call service for older and vulnerable social housing residents and a homemade Christmas food delivery service are among a number of initiatives being singled out for praise as the government announces a £7.5m fund to tackle the epidemic of loneliness in England.

With millions now living under tier 4 restrictions in England, ministers said on Tuesday that the package would help counter loneliness over the winter period, and support sectors well known for bringing people and communities together, such as the arts, libraries, charities and radio.

A recent survey showed that more than a quarter of people were not likely to see loved ones during the festive period. A poll of 2,100 adults in Great Britain commissioned by the British Psychological Society found that 41% were worried about those close to them feeling isolated in coming weeks and 27% said they were not planning on spending Christmas with loved ones.

The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, thanked those who are helping to tackle isolation, urging the public to look out for their neighbours.

He highlighted two housing associations that he believed had gone the extra mile following the launch of the government’s charter for social housing residents last month. The charter aims to improve the lives of residents, give them more power to hold landlords to account, and help them form networks to combat social isolation. Jenrick praised Poole Housing Partnership, which established a phone call service for older and vulnerable residents to enjoy regular chats with friendly volunteers, and Your Homes Newcastle, which delivered homemade Christmas meals to its older residents.

“None of us have never known a Christmas like this. While we may have had smaller and quieter Christmases than normal, for some people this Christmas will have been especially hard – and very lonely. That’s why I’m encouraging people to find other ways to reach out virtually and help combat loneliness – by picking up the phone or writing a letter, for example,” Jenrick said.

He added: “Let’s all do what we can to connect with our older neighbours – in a Covid-secure way – so they feel less alone and know how valuable they are to their communities at this difficult time.”

The charity Age UK estimates that there are approximately 1.4 million chronically lonely older people in England.

Meanwhile, the government revealed that from the £750m charity funding package announced in April, just £24m went towards reducing loneliness, and a further £45m to organisations supporting people’s mental health.

However, the government announced there would be a new campaign to highlight the charter for social housing residents in February 2021. The campaign will highlight what the changes will mean for residents and how they can access support.

On 19 December, the prime minister issued a “stay at home” order covering London and much of the south and east of England in response to a new fast-spreading strain of coronavirus, leaving many with no option but to spend Christmas alone.


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