Tackling the Loneliness Epidemic

When I spoke about the injustice of loneliness at the Conservative Conference, I hadn’t realised I was tapping into a topic that would be so important to so many people.

I spoke about loneliness because of a thought that struck me directly after the election. I had stood as the Parliamentary Candidate in Luton South, and like any election campaign, I knocked on thousands of doors – as did so many other campaigners and candidates from all parties. Every few hours, I would knock the door of someone who greeted me with a big smile, not because they wanted to talk politics, but because I was the first person they had spoken to in days. Often older people, widowers and single retirees, but also quite a few middle-aged and younger people who would talk about feeling isolated. I have no doubt this type of election campaign experience is similar up and down the country, so it occurred to me as the election ended, who will go knock on their doors now?


Video: Dean Russell speech on Loneliness at Conservative Party Conference 2017

Since giving the speech, I have had hundreds of conversations with people about loneliness – the causes, the concerns and the impact. It is an epidemic, and possibly more prevalent at this time of the year than any other. Whilst so many of us are preparing to celebrate Christmas and New Year, the spectre of loneliness looms heavy on society. Just this week there has been news of multiple suicides on train lines, homelessness is in the headlines and, as I have witnessed directly, there are families and older people feeling isolated in their own community.
As passionate as I am about politics, I also realise now more than ever, that policy can only go so far. Yes, we absolutely need to make sure policies are in place to identify root causes and support those in need, but whilst those arguments and debates take place, there is nothing to stop anyone of us in getting out there and helping others right now. 
Let’s also be realistic, as and when politicians do agree on a solution, there can still never be a law to make people talk to each other or care enough to knock on the door of someone lonely for a chat; only we can make that happen ourselves.

This year I have been involved in some personally life-changing charitable missions which proved this to me more than ever. The most recent of these was just last week, when I participated in a London #BasketBrigade, where we organised and delivered 100 boxes of food and wrapped gifts for struggling families and older individuals across London. The event is organised each year by The Greg Secker Foundation (GSF) in partnership with The Salvation Army. It is a real feat of logistics and passion by all involved. The initiative is a complete surprise to recipients. Movingly, the most powerful part of the delivery was never the ‘basket’, it was the message we delivered. When asked who the ‘basket’ was from, we simply stated “It’s a gift from a friend, someone who cares about you.” Those words alone were enough to transform the faces of recipients – with smiles and tears from all. In most cases, the recipients didn’t even know what was in the basket when we arrived on the doorstep, but the fact someone cared enough to do something for them was intensely powerful.


 Video: London Live news at the London #BasketBrigade


I’m not expecting that everyone can take part in these bigger initiatives (although if you can, please do).  The lesson is simply that even the smallest of gestures can make a big difference. It can be taking a few moments to say hello to an elderly person sitting alone, through to buying a coffee for someone who is homeless and taking a few minutes to ask how they are. It’s in these few, sometimes fleeting, moments of connection that real communities are forged and loneliness is tackled. 
Of course, you can argue back to me that this isn’t solving the difficult situation they may be in, but whilst the politicians work on that, surely we all have a duty to ensure everyone knows that someone cares. As the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words”, but in tackling loneliness, perhaps it’s words that are the action we need to take. 

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