New housing developments and public transport routes should be “loneliness proofed” and more public toilets and benches introduced to help people reconnect as coronavirus restrictions ease, according to a report.
MPs and peers from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Loneliness say the public needs more “safe and welcoming” public spaces to help them reconnect with others.
The group’s report says there are “too many barriers” preventing people from connecting, such as a lack of green spaces, public toilets, playing areas, local bus services, and ramps for people with disabilities.
The report, A Connected Recovery, is the result of the first independent parliamentary inquiry into loneliness.
The APPG is supported by the Red Cross, whose survey suggests that more than a third (39%) of adults do not think their feelings of loneliness will go away after the pandemic.
And 32% said they are concerned about being able to connect with people in person the way they did before the crisis.
Four in 10 respondents fear it will be difficult to reconnect with people they have been out of contact with when lockdown restrictions lift.
The survey, of 2,000 UK adults in March, also found that 30% said a lack of facilities like public toilets or local buses will stop them meeting people when restrictions lift.
The APPG said groups more likely to have experienced loneliness during the pandemic are people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, those who live alone and are shielding, younger people and parents of young children.
It is calling for the Government to allocate long-term funding to tackle loneliness, within and beyond coronavirus recovery plans.
It wants to see lead officials for tackling loneliness in place across the nine Government departments and for local areas to be helped to develop loneliness action plans.
They recommend that the Department for Transport should “loneliness proof” its strategies for transport and mobility and consider how routes and infrastructure can be designed to maximise social connection.
And the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should ensure new housing developments and neighbourhoods promote and increase social connections.
The report also calls for investment to close the digital divide caused by a lack of access to internet or mobile technology,
APPG chairman and Conservative MP Neil O’Brien said his most isolated constituents have been the least able to cope during the pandemic, which has highlighted the importance of connected communities,
He said: “This means more public toilets, better street lighting, ramps and quiet safe spaces, so that everyone from all ages and all backgrounds has the facilities they need in order to make valuable friendships in their area.
“With strong progress being made on the rollout of the vaccination and the easing of restrictions in sight, there is growing hope.
“But the economic and social impacts of Covid-19 will be long-lasting and we will have tough choices to make. Connecting our communities will be critical to our country’s ability to recover and build back better.”
He added: “We are at a crossroad. We can succumb to what can sometimes feel like the inevitable.
“Or we can intentionally apply what we’ve learnt throughout the pandemic to push back, get creative and reconnect our communities.”
British Red Cross executive director Zoe Abrams said: “It’s crucial that the Government’s commitment to tackling loneliness does not wane after this pandemic.
“The need for action on loneliness will only grow as we work to re-engage those who have been severely isolated during the pandemic and those who have recently faced the life transitions which we know can lead to loneliness – such as poor physical and mental health, losing a job or losing a loved one.
“Addressing the impacts loneliness and social isolation have had during the pandemic will be vital to building our resilience to future crises.”
The Mental Health Foundation said its research shows loneliness has not returned to pre-lockdown levels at any point over the last year.
A spokeswoman said: “Loneliness matters for mental health because connections with others help us cope with difficulties.
“Losing connections means having less emotional support, at a time of global crisis that has challenged almost everyone.”
The Local Government Association said councils have a “critical role” in tackling loneliness, adding: “However, as this report makes clear, long-term, sustainable funding for councils is needed so they can tackle this urgent public health issue.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “The impacts of Covid-19 are being felt across the world, but the UK Government is leading the way in tackling the issue of loneliness.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have invested over £31.5 million in organisations supporting people who experience loneliness – and a further £44 million to organisations supporting people with their mental health.
“We recognise that the easing of lockdown restrictions will not mean the end of loneliness for many people, which is why this will remain a priority for the Government.”
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