“Ah, look at all the lonely people…
Eleanor Rigby… waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps by the door, who is it for? All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”
Lennon & McCartney – 1966
A sense of urgency immediately hits you in that first call to look, and right from the first chords, it carries through the swift paced momentum of the whole song – the double string quartet sharply and incessantly saws away to reinforce the narrative of the pain of a lonely life. Now, fifty or so years on, who knew that we would find the theme of this legendary song compelling enough to become perhaps, the anthem for a national policy initiative embedded in a government ministry.
Last month, the UK government caught up with Eleanor Rigby and found that her story had become distressingly, as PM Theresa May said, “the sad reality of modern life”, for over 9 million citizens. What does this move say about why we have come to this? How can you argue with the irony, that as loneliness and social isolation have become such a recognized concern – poignantly, at the same time, we excitedly pitch the power of social technologies to enhance our human connectedness?
In an article Feb.3rd, the Yorkshire Post discusses Tracey Crouch in her new role within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. An interesting positioning. Her profile on the UK government website (as of time of writing this), names her as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport and Civil Society. After an important Press Release on Jan.17th, announcing the new Minister for Loneliness, you would wonder why her new role wasn’t right up on her profile the very same day.
However slow that web page update task may take to complete, Tracey Crouch is quoted in the Post article with respect to loneliness, “We are not going to be able to solve this problem overnight, or indeed within the next 12 months, but we can start by setting out a framework of how we can have a proper coordinated approach.” Noble intentions to eradicate loneliness need another framework? But as we wait for that, one of the best actions any of us can take as individuals each day, is to actually seek out, listen and talk to each other more – in the moment.
Earlier the article states of Crouch that, “Part of her “phenomenal” challenge over the coming weeks and months will be to bring in a metric to measure loneliness and to develop a cross-Government strategy that will be used to tackle loneliness in people of all ages.” Noble intentions need another strategy? One of the many things we as a community can do is to design or re-design for age friendly neighbourhoods that encourage social and civic participation.
In memory of Jo Cox, no more waiting for a metric
Staying with the UK, this message about the social and health costs of loneliness and what to do about it is not news. In 2011, the Campaign to End Loneliness launched, with a specific focus on loneliness of older adults within communities. Age UK is one of the partner organizations. So much of the research, resources, frameworks and strategies already exists on these websites, not to mention numerous others of its kind. Do we need to wait to measure with more metrics?
The setup of the Minister for Loneliness in the UK is traceable back to the work of the MP, Jo Cox and her Commission on Loneliness. Cox was working on this in the year before her murder in June 2016 and it is a fitting tribute to her legacy that the UK government is fostering her message while the collaboration of a dozen or so community and business groups is raising awareness and developing programs across the country.
While so much about the loneliness issue has been framed around our older populations in the media for years, often described as a national epidemic, as evidenced by this Canadian 2016 piece by CBC’s The Current, the reality of loneliness is not restricted to older adults. In a 2014 article in the Guardian, Loneliness: a silent plague that is hurting young people the most, you would be then left to ask – what age are we to imagine Eleanor Rigby to be?
As Jo Cox said, “Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate.”
** Photo – Eleanor Rigby Sculpture, Liverpool, by Tommy Steele