UK appoints minister for loneliness

Published: January 17, 2018 12:14:01 | Updated: January 19, 2018 17:56:59

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A new minister has been appointed in the UK to help tackle the loneliness endured by an estimated nine million adults.

Tracey Crouch, the minister for sport and civil society, will head a government-wide group with responsibility for policies connected to loneliness, Downing Street said.

The move follows a cross-party report by the commission set up in honour of Jo Cox; the Labour MP murdered by a rightwing extremist in 2016, who had campaigned on the issue, reports the Guardian.

A 2017 report said loneliness is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

In a statement Prime Minister Theresa May said: "Jo Cox recognised the scale of loneliness across the country and dedicated herself to doing all she could to help those affected."

She said the new ministerial role would continue Cox's legacy, with the post holder working with the commission, businesses and charities to create a government strategy.

In December 2017 National Health Service England's chief nursing officer, Prof Jane Cummings, said cold weather and loneliness could be lethal in the winter months, according to a BBC report.

She said "simple acts of companionship" could make all the difference.

An estimated half of people aged 75 and over live alone - about two million people across England - with many saying they can go days, even weeks, with no social interaction at all.

Crouch said: "This is an issue that Jo cared passionately about and we will honour her memory by tackling it, helping the millions of people across the UK who suffer from loneliness."

The government announced the Office of National Statistics will devise a method of measuring loneliness, and a fund will be set up to help tackle the problem.

Rachel Reeves and Seema Kennedy, chairwomen of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, have worked with a variety of charities - including Age UK and Action for Children - to find ways to help people cope.

In a joint statement, they said they welcomed government acceptance of the need for "a new ministerial leader who will have the responsibility for creating a national strategy."

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