The loneliness minister has stressed the problem will “not be solved overnight” as she choose Yorkshire for her first fact finding tour, meeting those at the sharp end of isolation.
Three months on from being appointed, Tracey Crouch traveled to Batley and Spen, the former constituency of murdered MP Jo Cox, to meet community groups and volunteers helping those affected by loneliness today.
Young people are more lonely than those in older age groups, wide-ranging Government loneliness study finds
She chose Mrs Cox’s former patch in tribute to the work she did before she died in June 2016 in establishing a commission to investigate loneliness - work that was carried out in her name last year and resulted in the appointment of the loneliness minister and a range of other initiatives to tackle the crisis announced by Theresa May in January.
Ms Crouch was taken by current Batley and Spen MP Tracy Brabin to Windybank Community Centre in Liversedge, where she met volunteers from a parent and toddler group and Kirklees Young Carers, before going on to the Chatterbox centre in Howden Clough, which has a food bank, parents’ groups and job seekers’ support.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post at Windybank, Ms Crouch said: “I really wanted to come to Batley and Spen today, because it is at the heart of the programme around loneliness that Jo started and that Tracy and her colleagues are continuing. To be here is really humbling for me, but I want to see what work is going on around the country already to try and help reduce isolation and build on that going forward.”
Ms Crouch admitted that even three months on from the announcement of a Government fund to support loneliness initiatives, a figure had still not been put on the funding pot.
She said: “We are designing the funding pot with the Jo Cox Foundation and other organisations that have been high profile on the issue, to find out what has worked elsewhere, and also that we do not duplicate work already being done. But we are looking at a decent spending pot. We are looking at providing a strategy for the future. This is not something that is going to be solved over night or have just one solution.”
Ms Brabin said she was “grateful” that the minister had come to see the work of volunteers.
“To have the focus of a minister for loneliness is a very positive step forward,” she said. “While Kirklees has had 50 per cent of its budget cut, libraries and youth centres are closing. But having the minister see how important they are offers a glimmer of hope.”
Those who have experienced loneliness share their stories
FROM a young carer who doesn’t have the time for a social life, to new mums who were isolated after the birth of their children, those who have experienced loneliness told the minister their stories.
Student Megan Kitching, 17, from Huddersfield, met loneliness minister Tracey Crouch with fellow attendees of Barnardo’s Kirklees Young Carers . She juggles her studies at Wakefield College’s Rugby Academy with caring for her father, who has multiple sclerosis.
Miss Kitching, who is helping Kirklees Young Carers to develop a group for young adult carers, said: “I prioritise my home life over my social life - I don’t do much. After a gruelling day at college I just want to go to sleep, but I have jobs to do, like organising my dad’s tablets and cooking.”
Research out yesterday showed that those who have a caring responsibility are 37 times for likely to experience loneliness than others.
Miss Kitching added: “I know quite a few young carers and must don’t get the chance to do much for themselves. A lot are quite lonely - and you can feel isolated.”
Also meeting Ms Crouch was Kathleen Courtney, secretary of Windybank Activities For All, which has recently set up a new group for parents and children.
“There is a real need for the group because there’s nothing like this in the area, not since the children’s centre closed down,” she said. “And it’s not just about the loneliness parents might feel, but the kids too. When they come to the group, the children have the chance to play together.”
Praise for Loneliness campaign
TRACEY Crouch praised the Yorkshire Post’s long-running Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign for the efforts it made to show the scale of the issue.
The loneliness minister said: “What I find most interesting about the Yorkshire Post’s campaign is that is covers such a large area. There are so many different aspects of loneliness, that is affecting all areas of the county. But what the Yorkshire Post has done is shown the different ways in which loneliness can affect anyone, from here in Batley and Spen to the most rural areas of North Yorkshire.”
The Yorkshire Post launched its campaign in February 2014 after revealing that more than 90,000 older people in the region suffered from loneliness.
Ms Brabin added: “What you have also done is show that it’s not just something that affects older people, but younger people too.”