Co-operative MSPs lead debate in Holyrood on Loneliness

Rhoda Grant

Labour & Co-operative MSP for Highlands and Islands


Last week I was happy to lead the Members’ Business debate on Triggers for Loneliness. I want thank the Co-operative Group and the British Red Cross for their “Trapped in a bubble: An investigation into triggers for loneliness in the UK” report, which highlights the issues of loneliness. I was pleased that this critical issue for our society received fantastic cross party support.

The work of the Co-operative Group and British Red Cross adds to our understanding of this issue and the projects it will stimulate will make a real difference. We in the Co-operative movement understand the value of community. Co-operatives and the Co-op Group have a rich history of community work and is one of the things which make co-operatives stand out. For example, Scotmid, which is headquartered in Edinburgh, support hundreds of community groups around Scotland, including ChildLine as its charity of the year.

This particular report and campaign came from the members of the Co-operative Group, members were asked to identify an issue that they wanted to pursue. They voted to tackle loneliness and the Co-op chose the British Red Cross as its partner. Funds were raised—exceeding the £3.5 million target—to tackle the issue. The report was published and they are now looking to develop projects, of which five are in Scotland and two are in the Highlands and Islands region—in Brae and Inverness.

We can sometimes assume that loneliness impacts in old age, usually as a result of bereavement or illness. However, the report looks at several different groups, including young mums, people with mobility limitations, people with health problems, those who have recently divorced or separated, people whose children have left home, retired people and those who have been bereaved. Indeed figures from the NEF think tank and Co-operative Group estimates costs the UK employers to £2.5bn a year.

The report found that being lonely has biological, psychological and behavioural impacts. While we can understand the psychological and behavioural impacts of loneliness, it is not fully recognised that loneliness has biological impacts on a person’s health.

The Jo Cox commission on loneliness was set up after the MP’s death to examine ways of tackling loneliness and it is a fitting addition to the work that she started. Jo Cox was passionate about tackling loneliness, which she put down to three issues: an ageing population, changing family structures and a Government policy of inadequate care services.
The voluntary sector is doing its bit. We need Government to support it, and we all need to play our part by starting a conversation about loneliness.