The National Assembly for Wales' Health, Social Care and Sport Committee has published a Welsh inquiry into loneliness and isolation.
The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee heard that around half a million people in Wales feel lonely always or often, and that a lack of social interaction is as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The Committee was also concerned that the extent of the problem could be much worse than is currently assumed, as people are too ashamed to admit they are lonely.
Lack of public transport, especially in the evenings, was seen as a significant factor in contributing to loneliness and isolation. The Committee heard that some villages were completely cut off because they do not have a bus service. Committee witnesses also talked about the irony of having a free bus pass when many do not have access to a bus service.
During discussions with service users and service providers, members were told of the benefits of intergenerational contact, where young people and older people swap skills and experiences.
Numerous examples of excellent work by voluntary organisations across the country were highlighted, but the short-term nature of funding, which had resulted in the closure of some schemes, was an area of considerable concern.
However, the Committee found that a strategy that would set the priorities and direction for tackling the problem wouldn’t be published by the Welsh Government until 2019.
- That the Welsh Government review the timescales for the development of its strategy to address loneliness and isolation, with a view to publication before 2019.
- That the Welsh Government takes a cross-departmental approach to its strategy on loneliness and isolation to maximise the contribution of all policy areas. To that end the National Dementia Strategy and Carers Strategic Action Plan should include specific reference to tackling loneliness and isolation.
- That the Welsh Government undertakes or commissions work to assess the impact of loneliness and isolation on health and wellbeing and whether people experiencing these issues make increased use of public services. The outcomes of the work could be used to strengthen the economic case for services to prevent loneliness and isolation.
- That the Welsh Government works with the voluntary sector and local government to secure the funding stability needed by voluntary sector organisations to continue to provide vital support services for people experiencing loneliness and isolation, by introducing three-year funding programmes.
- That the Welsh Government undertakes an evaluation to assess the impact of intergenerational contact on people experiencing loneliness and isolation. If the evaluation highlights benefits of such contact, the Welsh Government should ensure best practice in this area is rolled out across Wales.
- That the Welsh Government embarks on an awareness-raising campaign to change attitudes towards loneliness and isolation and address the stigma associated with it. This campaign should highlight the wealth of advice and support already available and use a wide range of communication methods to ensure people who do not have online access are not disadvantaged.