Does Ireland need a minister for Loneliness?

In January 2018, Theresa May appointed a dedicated Minister for Loneliness for the UK. This is a hugely important step in acknowledging that there is currently a loneliness epidemic happening among older people. Social isolation can have a huge negative impact on the physical and mental health of individuals, and the introduction of a Minister for Loneliness aims to tackle this issue.

The UK introduced the position after research found that up to 10% of the population ‘always or often’ felt lonely. These findings were published in an article for Euronews which also drew attention to the fact that hundreds of thousands of elderly people hadn’t spoken to anyone in over a month.

In Ireland, the 2016 census showed that 399,815 people lived alone and the number of people over 65 had increased by 102,174 in five years. This is double the rate of the 15-64 age group. Given that older people are more likely to live alone, and can often be without access to a car or a way of getting around, the introduction of a Minister for Loneliness could be a great step.

The appointment in the UK to tackle this social issue was the first of its kind in the world, and could lead to more countries introducing a similar role. While isolation and loneliness are not just felt by the older members of the community, it is a huge issue among the elderly population. Their feelings of isolation may be amplified by having no access to a car, or an unwillingness or inability to use public transport.

It is estimated that by 2050, 25% of the population will be aged over 65, meaning it is crucially important that a plan is in place to accommodate the needs of the older generations. Loneliness may seem like an issue that is small, but think how you might feel if you went over a month without talking to a friend or relative?

The cumulative effect of loneliness can make you feel neglected, obsolete and forgotten. These are the feelings that older people most often feel. They have seen their families grow up and move away, while they are left living alone. It can be tough and could ultimately lead to a downturn in mental health and wellbeing for the elderly generation. The effects of loneliness extend far beyond feeling alone.

At Comfort Keepers Ireland, we think having a dedicated member of the government to work on an action plan for this is a great idea. It is an issue that will affect us all directly through members of our families, or may come to be an issue we face ourselves as we age.

What do you think about the idea of a ‘Minister for Loneliness?’ Do you think the Irish government should introduce the same or something similar? Let us know on our Facebook page.