A Connected Scotland: our strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections

The Scottish Government’s first national strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness and build stronger social connections.

Executive Summary

A Connected Scotland is the Scottish Government's national strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and building social connections. It establishes a clear and compelling vision of the type of Scotland we want to be when it comes to our relationships; defines what we mean when we talk about social isolation and loneliness; sets out our key priorities in seeking to tackle social isolation and loneliness; and lays out a clear roadmap for implementing the strategy in a cross-cutting and collaborative way.

Our vision states that we want a Scotland where individuals and communities are more connected, and that everyone has the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships regardless of age, status, circumstances or identity.

We define social isolation as "when an individual has an objective lack of social relationships (in terms of quality and/or quantity) at individual group, community and societal levels", and loneliness as "a subjective feeling experienced when there is a difference between the social relationships we would like to have and those we have".

We already have a significant evidence base that tells us that social isolation and loneliness are experienced across the population. The Our Voice Citizens' Panel indicated that 1 in 10 people in Scotland often feel lonely[1], and there are other sources of information that help us understand the scale of this problem. The evidence review which was completed by NHS Health Scotland[2] provides further information, and there are a range of other evidence sources drawing on stakeholder research and academic findings. We expect that this evidence base will continue to develop over the lifetime of the strategy and that it will continue to inform our approach.

The Scottish Government is clear that we can't do this alone – that's why we're using the launch of this Strategy as a clear call to action for everyone – individuals; communities; local authorities, health boards and other community planning partners; third sector and social enterprise;

and business – to play their part in reducing social isolation and loneliness. Not just because it's the right thing to do – but because it will help to improve the health and wellbeing of our nation.

We know that there's a great deal of passion, expertise and good work all across Scotland that stands ready to play a part. When our consultation on the initial draft closed at the end of April, we had received over 400 responses. At our well attended community engagement events all across Scotland – 17 in total, from Galashiels to Lerwick – there was a real appetite for change. They told us many things that mattered to people in building social connections and in supporting others to do so – from transport, housing and public spaces to digital technology. They told us that Government has an important role in tackling social isolation and loneliness, but so do others. We're immensely grateful to those who took the time to engage and look forward to building on that engagement in the future.

To provide a clear focus to our future work, we will establish a Ministerial Steering Group to maintain oversight of activity, drive forward progress and tackle emerging issues; and a National Implementation Group, to drive forward progress in embedding a cross-sectoral approach through the development and implementation of a shared delivery plan for the Strategy along with a shared performance framework to understand the difference we're making. To underpin this work, we've established 4 priorities and set out some early actions to help make progress.

Priority 1: Empower communities and build shared ownership

We're working to ensure that communities can make a difference on their own terms, and that means devolving more power to them. Embedding public service reform principles and a relational, person-centred approach to delivering change is vital and will help to contribute to the delivery of national outcomes. As well as creating the right conditions nationally and working across the whole population, we want to focus on different ages, stages and walks of life to ensure that we address the barriers and inequalities that impact on different groups. From looking at the opportunities and challenges in urban and rural communities, to supporting older people and young people, to identifying risks where people go through life transitions, to taking an intersectional approach that recognises issues facing different groups under equality law – we want to make sure that approaches are tailored to suit individual circumstance and local need. And we want everyone to play their part – recognising that alongside government, communities and public services, the private sector has an important role to play.

Early actions we will take under this priority:

  • Consider what more we can do to devolve decision-making locally through the work of the local governance review, and look at how future work in this area could potentially allow communities to reduce social isolation and loneliness.
  • Work with third sector partners to scope out the development of a resource which supports greater embedding of considerations around social isolation, loneliness and social connectivity within policy and decision-making.
  • Take the opportunity of our commitment to publishing an Older People's Framework in early 2019 to highlight the positive contribution of older people, tackle negative perceptions and challenge the barriers people face as they age, all of which will support our ambitions under this Strategy.
  • Ensure that all relevant parts of Government consider how best they align their investments in communities with the ambitions of this strategy.
  • Commission research to support greater understanding of how social isolation and loneliness interacts with key life transitions from 'cradle to grave', which will inform the development of future actions.
  • Convene a roundtable of representatives from the business community to explore further what more the private sector can do to tackle social isolation and loneliness in their communities.
  • Encourage businesses to consider using the Workplace Equality Fund to explore ways in which employment inequality can be reduced through greater social connectivity at work.

Priority 2: Promote positive attitudes and tackle stigma

Building an understanding of what constitutes positive and healthy relationships at the outset of life is important in ensuring that everyone can establish and nurture social connections. Kindness is at the heart of this, and we want to build on the early conversations kick started by the Carnegie Trust UK to look at what works in building kinder communities and services. There continues to be a stigma that prevents people from admitting that they may be isolated or lonely, and we want to do more to raise the profile of this issue and develop innovative solutions to tackling the stigma around it. Our ambitions to improve mental wellbeing and deliver parity with physical health can make an important contribution, as can creating the conditions for intergenerational dialogue to flourish.

Early actions we will take under this priority:

  • Following expected publication at the end of 2018, implement the recommendations of the review of Personal and Social Education, to support positive and healthy relationships.
  • Work with stakeholders to better understand what works in reducing the stigma around social isolation and loneliness.
  • Consider with partners what more we can do to promote intergenerational dialogue, as part of the legacy of the Year of Young People.

Priority 3: Create opportunities for people to connect

Opportunities for people to connect exist in their communities, and we want people to have an awareness of what's out there. We recognise that investment from the Scottish Government can help communities to thrive, and we want to make sure that our investments help to reduce social isolation and loneliness as well as to pilot innovative approaches to doing so. For those who may be experiencing or at risk of chronic social isolation and loneliness, befriending can be a vital lifeline. Physical activity and volunteering within communities are two powerful methods of making social connections and building meaningful social relationships. We also know that technology and digital solutions have the transformational power to make a substantial difference, and we want to ensure that we continue to support the change made in this area.

Early actions we will take under this priority:

  • Consider existing good practice in supporting people to know what's happening in their local area, and look at whether this can be rolled out further.
  • Work with key partners to raise awareness of the value of befriending and support work to build capacity within the sector.
  • Take the opportunity of our new National Volunteering Outcomes Framework to set out a coherent and compelling vision for volunteering and identify the key evidence and data which will be used to drive an increase in participation for all.
  • Work with older age groups to understand how digital technology can add value to their lives in a way that is meaningful to them, and link this to our ongoing work to delivering our Digital Strategy for Scotland.

Priority 4: Support an infrastructure that fosters connections

Government has an important role in supporting and developing the wider conditions that enable communities to thrive and individuals to be able to build and develop social connections. Person-centred health and social care can make a real difference in alleviating chronic social isolation and loneliness and helping to address the underlying issues, as can a growing third sector and a vibrant social economy where businesses trade for the common good and seek to strengthen social capital within their communities. The extent to which people interact is heavily determined by their lived environment – housing solutions that place personal need at the centre, a planning system that gives communities a stronger voice, and building safer communities can help to make a real difference here. Building and sustaining Scotland's culture and historic environment creates a landscape of opportunities for people to socially connect, whilst the physical thread that binds communities together – our transport network – makes a huge difference to how, when and where people spend their time.

Early actions we will take under this priority:

  • Work with health and social care integration authorities to consider their role in addressing social isolation and loneliness and how best to share good practice.
  • Publish a National Implementation Plan to embed self-directed support in social care nationally and locally, so that people can make the decisions that matter to them in terms of being supported to maintain their social connections.
  • Pilot innovative housing solutions for older people, testing intergenerational and other co-living arrangements to meet housing needs and reduce social isolation and loneliness.
  • Commence a review of Scotland's National Planning Framework, and consider in that how local development plans can better support vibrant communities with opportunities for greater social interaction.
  • Deliver an online hub focused on reducing unintentional harm that includes a number of examples that can help reduce social isolation and loneliness.
  • Review our National Transport Strategy, with accessibility identified as a key theme.
  • Modernise our Accessible Travel Framework to speed up implementation and seek to make journeys easier for people with accessibility issues.
  • Make improvements to the transport system through the provisions in our wide-ranging Transport Bill.
  • Through our culture strategy, work to increase access to culture and ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate.
  • Through our first strategy for public libraries, work to build on what libraries already offer as community hubs with a role in tackling these issues.

Implementation and Reporting

But as we've said, Government can't do this alone – so we'll build mechanisms to embed a truly cross cutting and collaborative approach to delivering the ambitions of this strategy. The National Implementation Group will commence work to develop a shared delivery plan containing priority actions alongside a performance framework to help us understand and evaluate the difference that we're making, and take this forward through wider engagement with stakeholders including initiatives like the recently established Action Group on Isolation and Loneliness. We have committed up to £1 million over the next two years to help build capacity and pilot innovative approaches to tackling social isolation and loneliness. We'll develop a communications plan to maximise public awareness of and engagement with the Strategy, and report on progress every two years on how we're moving forward in building a Connected Scotland.


Email: Trevor Owen

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