Loneliness is front page news — and, honestly, that’s a brilliant thing.

The government has announced that Tracey Crouch MP, minister for sport and civil society, will be Britain’s first ever minister for loneliness, a new position created to lead a government-wide group that aims to tackle the challenge.

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In the UK there are 9 million adults who feel lonely, according to a 2017 cross-party report.

The report — from a commision set up by the late MP Jo Cox, a champion of tackling the issue of loneliness — described it as a “generational challenge”, and worked with 13 charities to publish recommendations including the ministerial position and a UK-wide strategy.

It said that loneliness was as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Following the recommendations of the Jo Cox Commission, the government will also establish a wider strategy, including gathering data and providing funding for community activity, according to the Guardian. New initiatives will be announced next year.

All over the country there are people who glance at the rest of the world, and feel disconnected. While it’s still early in the process of combatting that, it’s very much a positive step.

“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life,” said UK Prime Minister Theresa May. “I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones – people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.”

The prime minister also paid tribute to activist, humanitarian, and politician Jo Cox, who was killed by a far-right terrorist on June 16 2016 — just before the Brexit referendum on departing the European Union — outside her constituency office in Batley and Spen, Yorkshire. The Jo Cox Commission is chaired by Conservative MP Seema Kennedy and Labour’s Rachel Reeves — and they made a joint statement welcoming the new ministerial position.

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“Jo Cox said that young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate,” they said in a joint statement. “Throughout 2017 we have heard from new parents, children, disabled people, carers, refugees, and older people about their experience of loneliness.”

Cox made an important step in raising the issue of loneliness, and the data presented by her commission supports it.

Loneliness in numbers

  • 80% of carers have felt lonely looking after a loved one (Carers UK).
  • 58% of migrants and refugees in London described it as their “biggest challenge” (The Forum).
  • 50% of disabled people feel lonely on any given day (Age UK).
  • 52% of parents have had a problem with loneliness (Action for Children).
  • 38% of people with dementia said they’d lost friends after their diagnosis (Alzheimer’s Society).

For the most part, the announcement was widely supported — though commentators were quick to point out that despite the positive step, it’s vital to consider a wider social context. Bestselling author Matt Haig, a vocal advocate for mental health issues, and award-winning chef and writer Jack Monroe, who is often outspoken online about the connections between poverty and depression, both responded to the announcement on Twitter.

Loneliness and mental health issues affects us all. Jo Cox understood this, and fought for justice all her life — and this fresh ministerial position is evidence of the positive influence she is still having.

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