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31 October 2013

Church challenged to care for lonely

Church challenged to care for lonely

Solo living and loneliness are on the rise in Britain, it is a widespread problem, and it's not just the elderly and those outside the Church who are affected.

A recent ComRes survey commissioned by Radio 2 and BBC Local Radio as part of their Faith in the World Week found that half of English adults say they experience loneliness.

The survey found 48 per cent of adults in England and 52 per cent of Londoners experience varying degrees of loneliness and also that one in five people are lonelier now than they were ten years ago.

It also seems that this feeling is not confined to the elderly because, according to the poll, 18 to 24 year olds can experience it as much as those who are in their 60s or older. Christians are called to rise to the challenges this presents.

"This is a shocking scenario," comments Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, "but the time is now to make sure we get to know our neighbours, encourage community cohesion, show Jesus' love and be there for people. It's both an enormous challenge and a great opportunity."

Writing for the Guardian Aditya Chakrabortty reflects on the significant rise in solo living in Britain, from 17 per cent of all households in 1971 to 31 per cent,saying: "while the proportion of retirees living alone has hardly changed over the past four decades, it's Britons of working age who are increasingly on their own". He goes on to tell the shocking story of 38-year-old Joyce Carol Vincent whose corpse had been lying undiscovered in her London bedsit for three years.

While some solo living might be the result of choice, many people find themselves in this position because of social, economic or difficult personal circumstances which are beyond their control. Chief among these multiple and systemic causes are family breakdown and alienation caused by divorce, separation and the need for children to move away for employment purposes.

In response to the rising tide of isolation among Britons, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that this country had "utterly failed" to tackle the problem of loneliness, which he described as a "national shame".

Christians feel loneliness too. Parliamentary officer at the Evangelical Alliance, Danny Webster, commented: "Churches are often based around family activities, and this can sometimes have the unintentional effect of leaving some people feeling left out and lonely. The challenge of living alone can be compounded when the Church seeks to provide a family environment and ends up leaving those who need it most left out."

The Campaign To End Loneliness found that some 800,000 people in Britain experience chronic loneliness. Half of these are thought to be in care homes without regular visits.

Attitudes clearly play an important part in this. A report by the Mental Health Foundation entitled The Lonely Society points out that: "socialising and investing time in social ties are generally seen as less important than 'productive' activities like work." This can be seen as a result of cultural values exalting individualism at the expense of relationships.

The annual Faith in the World Week was launched October 20 on Radio 2 by presenter Clare Balding in her weekly show Good Morning Sunday. Other Radio 2 shows taking part in Faith In The World Week included the Breakfast Show, Jeremy Vine and Simon Mayo.  

The Faith in the World Week theme for this year was living alone well and examined the upsides and downsides for those living alone, asking whether they relish the space and freedom living alone brings or whether living alone means feeling isolated and lonely and how they can find ways to cope with that. 

More than a third of British adults now live on their own. This is a major change in the social landscape. According to the 2013 General Household Survey the percentage of households with just one person living in them has doubled since 1973. 

The Radio 2 Faith in the World website contains a unique collection of true life stories gathered by the 39 BBC local radio stations in England.