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20 February 2015

Tackling loneliness and isolation

Tackling loneliness and isolation

Loneliness and isolation are the most widespread social problems affecting our communities, regardless of income or social class, according to a Church of England survey, released last week.

In the national online study of social action by Anglican churches, social isolation was described as a major or significant problem in their area by 64 per cent of Church of England clergy, up from 58 per cent three years ago.

The Alliance has compiled loneliness statistics, which reflect this as a significant problem too - loneliness is the only issue to be cited as an issue in the majority of both wealthy and deprived communities.

Social isolation is listed as a more common problem than unemployment, homelessness and poor housing by the 1,812 clergy who completed the questionnaire.

In London, 71 per cent of leaders said social isolation was a major or significant problem in their community, compared to 61 per cent in the east of England and 58 per cent in the south east.

The Church is not ignoring this problem, and the Church in Action report showed that half of the churches surveyed are running organised activities to tackle social isolation through programmes such as youth groups, parent-toddler groups or lunch clubs, ensuring that churches provide support and friendship.

Tim Thornton, the Bishop of Truro, said: "It is heartening to see the Church responding so impressively to a range of different needs, including social isolation and loneliness.

"We live in an increasingly individualistic and atomised society. Through fostering social networks, friendships and family life, churches help to provide the 'glue' that binds people together and help build stronger communities."

The report is just a snapshot of the Church throughout the UK. It shows that social action is core the heart of the Church with more than 90 per cent addressing at least one social issue in their community.

Other figures in the survey show a big rise in the proportion of churches involved in running food banks, helping credit unions, providing debt advice or running night shelters.

The Alliance and the Neighbour Prayer Network are encouraging Christians to pray for and reach out to their neighbours to tackle loneliness, as well as getting involved in church community projects. Are we really good neighbours? Provides suggestions on how we can do this practically.

Paul Hackwood, executive chair of Church Urban Fund, said: "We see through our work all around this country the damage that loneliness and isolation brings to people's lives.

"It is fantastic to see the difference that churches are making in local communities, re-building hope and growing meaningful relationships."