NICVA joins urgent call for NI loneliness strategy

9 Dec 2020 Kathy Maguire    Last updated: 10 Dec 2020

Loneliness has a real cost and affects people of all ages. It is something we’re all likely to experience at some point in our lives, including when becoming a carer or parent, following bereavement or during ill health.

This is why NICVA have joined over 70 other organisations from across the public, community and voluntary sectors in signing an open letter to the First and deputy First Minister calling for a cross-departmental strategy.

As a new report launched this week highlights there is a need for urgent action to tackle loneliness and isolation across our communities this winter and beyond.

Being chronically – or always – lonely is dangerous for your health and wellbeing. It puts you at higher risk of heart disease, dementia and mental ill-health, and loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Approximately 1 in 5 people in Northern Ireland report feeling lonely (NI Health Survey), with chronic loneliness estimated to affect 1 in 20 people in Northern Ireland (NISRA Loneliness report).

The COVID-19 pandemic has also, inadvertently, made Northern Ireland’s loneliness problem worse, with lockdown restrictions – while vital to stopping the spread of the virus – inhibiting many of the connections that act as a buffer against feelings of loneliness.

In a poll commissioned by the The Campaign to End Loneliness , 40% of people in Northern Ireland said the restrictions on day-to-day life to contain Coronavirus have caused them to feel lonely; while a staggering 88% said loneliness has become a bigger problem since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Despite these severe impacts, Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK without a bespoke Loneliness Strategy. A step change in efforts to tackle loneliness is therefore required.

Whilst our other UK neighbours have all introduced loneliness plans this work has yet to start in Northern Ireland.

Our message to government  is clear: the time for stepping up action on tackling loneliness is now.

In this context, we are calling for the development of a bespoke and fully resourced 'Northern Ireland Loneliness Strategy', which should be designed on a cross-departmental basis. 

A strategy for Northern Ireland would join up existing work and drive forward improvements to make a real difference in the lives of people and communities as we emerge from Covid-19 restrictions.

In this joined up call to government we recommend that this strategy should be linked to a new loneliness indicator in the Programme for Government and assigned a Senior Responsible Owner to ensure delivery and accountability.

This cross-departmental element is key, as every Executive Minister has a role to play in addressing loneliness through their respective policy portfolios.

To support the successful development and delivery of the Strategy, we also believe a cross sector loneliness implementation group should be established. This would bring together representatives from the community and voluntary sector, businesses, schools, employers and health and social care to share best practice and promote action on loneliness across society.

Loneliness is everybody’s business and as this new report highlights , it's impacts far reaching across our communities, so we are therefore calling on the NI Executive to lend their support in driving the development of a cross-departmental loneliness strategy for Northern Ireland without delay.

kathy.maguire@nicva.org's picture
by Kathy Maguire

Policy Development Officer

[email protected]

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