Minister of loneliness for ‘broken society’

Dinner for one: Edward Hopper’s Automat — much of his work explores the theme of loneliness.

Can the state stop loneliness? Yesterday Britain appointed a government minister to tackle the “epidemic” blighting millions of lives — an issue dubbed the “giant evil” of our times.

Something about modern society is sending people into dangerous spirals of isolation. Now the British government wants to do something about it — Theresa May has appointed Tracey Crouch to tackle issues related to loneliness.

Research shows that loneliness is as bad for health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. It also fuels mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and paranoia.

The young are particularly at risk. In one survey 32% of those aged 16-24 said they feel lonely often or all the time — almost three times the amount of people aged over 65 who say the same.

The government now aims to tackle loneliness with a multi-million pound fund to develop community groups.

But some think the problem runs much deeper than the reach of these initiatives.

Anthropologist Richard Dunbar claims that humans are genetically hardwired to have a “social brain”.

Other scientists have observed twin babies gesturing to each other in the womb months before they are born — evidence of the “social pre-wiring” of the human mind.

But according to psychologist Jay Watts the culture of “individualism” at the centre of modern society is suffocating this natural sociability.

So can politicians really cure our loneliness?

Knowing me, knowing me

The whole system is broken, some say. The state does not care about communities — as proved by the hundreds of libraries shut down, condemning countless people to isolation. What is more, social media continues to displace vital face-to-face interactions. Politicians will solve nothing.

This intervention can make a difference, others respond. This announcement proves the government is serious about fixing the issue. Furthermore, citizens must start taking responsibility. As Crouch says, a huge difference can be made with “simple acts of companionship”.

You Decide

  1. Is the modern world a lonely place?

Activities

  1. Write a letter to Theresa May suggesting ways you think the government could tackle loneliness in society. Remember to use as much descriptive and persuasive language as possible.

Some People Say...

“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”

Mother Teresa

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
According to a 2017 study by Relate, 65% of people aged 16-24 claim to feel lonely at least some of the time. Among adults 13% said that they have no close friends.
What do we not know?
The government promised a fund to “develop activities which enable people to connect”. However, it is not clear how much money will be made available, and what projects will receive funding.

Word Watch

15 cigarettes
A widely cited statistic attributed to the work of Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Dr Tim Smith.
Survey
According to a 2017 report released by Relate, a counselling organisation.
Scientists
According to the research paper: Wired to Be Social: The Ontogeny of Human Interaction, by Umberto Castiello.
Hundreds of libraries
A 2016 investigation by BBC News found that 343 libraries had been closed in the preceding six years resulting in the loss of almost 8,000 jobs.

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