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Loneliness maps could help councils meet Care Act obligations

Mapping loneliness in local areas could help councils meet their obligations under the new Care Act to reach out to people experiencing isolation, it has been suggested. 

This comes after new research, published by Campaign to End Loneliness and University of Kent, concluded that councils and local services should use existing data to ‘map’ where the most lonely and isolated residents live – allowing limited resources to be targeted at the people and places that need them most. 

Simon Bottery, director of Policy at Independent Age, said: “Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, is right to call loneliness our ‘national shame’. It blights the lives of millions of older people and can have serious effects on their mental and physical health. 

“Under the new Care Act, which came in last week, councils are now obliged to reach out to people experiencing isolation and we welcome the practical ideas laid out in the Hidden Citizens report to help them achieve this. 

“However, the cold reality is that councils have had their funding slashed in recent years, which has led to 360,000 fewer older people receiving services from them. Against this background, it is hard to envisage many councils doing much more than paying lip service to their responsibilities for targeting loneliness.” 

The Campaign to End Loneliness warned that loneliness and isolation are as harmful to long-term health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It can also put people at risk of developing dementia, high blood pressure and depression. 

The Hidden Citizens finds that loneliness can be experienced because of a variety of reasons, from the loss of a loved one to becoming a carer, to living in an urban area with high population turnover or an area with little transport.

As mentioned, councils now have the responsibility in the Care Act to address loneliness and isolation to help prevent people needing care and support. And the new report highlights that a number of councils are leading the way by identifying people experiencing loneliness, including Gloucestershire County Council, who have created a ‘map’ of factors that could cause it. 

The map highlights households with just one occupant, a head of household who is aged 65+, situated in a low income area, or do not own a car, amongst other indicators. 

Neil Dixon, joint strategic needs analysis manager at Gloucestershire County Council, said: “Targeting local people who need our help the most is a priority for us in Gloucestershire and we are always looking at new ways to reach them. The map we’ve adapted from a model by Essex County Council means that we can work out how many people could be lonely and where those people need us most.” 

As well as mapping, the report authors have identified a number of strategies to help identify where people may be at risk of experiencing loneliness and what approaches organisations can take for promoting services to a community of older people. In particular, it noted that squeezed local authority and charity budgets mean that commissioners and services need to capitalise on existing resources, working to improve communication between different sectors and organisations in order to better identify and support older people experiencing loneliness. 

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