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.

Setting the scene

Who is the Strategy for?

Everyone. We know specific groups within the population will be at greater risk of experiencing social isolation or loneliness. We also know that it can potentially impact everyone at every age and stage of life.

What does the Strategy do?

The Strategy does the following things:

  • Sets out a vision of the kind of Scotland we want to see, where community connections are increased and no one is excluded from participating in society for any reason.
  • Defines what we mean when we talk about social isolation and loneliness, and states some of the evidence that shows it's a problem in Scotland.
  • States what our key priorities will be to tackle social isolation and loneliness, and build a more connected Scotland – along with the action we'll take to try and make this happen.
  • Sets out how we want to empower communities to lead efforts to tackle social isolation and loneliness.
  • Sets out a way to measure whether or not we're making a difference.
  • Sets out how we're going to take forward the implementation of the Strategy.

Why have a Strategy?

The last Scottish Parliament's Equal Opportunities Committee Inquiry into Age and Social Isolation[3] set out a number of findings and recommendations. One of the recommendations was to produce a national strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness. The most recent Programme for Government[4] said that:

"by the end of this year we will publish a national strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness, taking account of what we heard from communities when we consulted earlier this year. We are one of the first in the world to develop a national strategy to tackle one of the crucial social issues our society faces. In the coming year this strategy will help to raise awareness about what we can all do to reduce social isolation and loneliness; deliver resources to community groups who need a helping hand to foster social connections in their area; and ensure that every part of government is focused on how we empower communities to build a connected Scotland."

Who is responsible for realising the ambitions of the Strategy?

Everyone. Government has an important role, but it can't do this alone. So, we're determined to show leadership and establish a genuinely collaborative and cross-societal approach to tackling social isolation and loneliness.

We think that the role of the Scottish Government in reducing social isolation and loneliness is to foster the right environment and create the conditions for people and communities to design and deliver the solutions that best meet their needs. We're taking forward work across a range of areas – including improving health, supporting the third sector, and improving digital participation – that helps to make a difference. We want to continue this work and to establish a clear link between progress across these fields and reducing social isolation and loneliness. In order to do that, we need to be thinking about how policy and practice helps to foster – or may act as a barrier to – socially connecting. To help people do this, we'll work with third sector organisations to develop a resource that will provide support to those thinking about policy and service delivery in the context of tackling social isolation and loneliness and fostering social connectivity.

We also need to ensure that Government's approach to this issue is truly cross-cutting and that every part of the Scottish Government is playing a role in reducing social isolation and loneliness and fostering social connectivity. So we'll establish a Ministerial Steering Group, chaired by the Minister for Older People and Equalities, to take high level ownership of this strategy and oversee long term implementation.

And it is vital that we take this work forward in partnership. That's why we want to work closely with local government, health and social care services, and the third sector to ensure that we bring our collective strengths and responsibilities to tackling social isolation and loneliness. In order to embed a genuine partnership, we'll establish a National Implementation Group chaired by the Minister for Older People and Equalities, and comprising implementation partners from the public, private and third sectors. As part of its work, that group will consider how to reach a wide range of views and voices.

We know that local authorities can and do make a distinctive contribution on this agenda – in terms of local community planning; contributing to placemaking and regeneration; as guardians of substantial local assets and community spaces; as major employers in their localities; as direct providers of a range of services, often to those most vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness; and as a key funder of pivotal third sector services. So we want to work with COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) going forward as a key partner in this agenda to maximise alignment between the different spheres of government.

We also recognise the important role that the private sector plays in society. Whether as employers of staff, providers of goods and services or quite simply entities that come into contact with people as they live their lives – it is increasingly understood that business has an important role to play in helping to build a better society. To develop this further, we'll bring together leaders from the private sector across Scotland for a Ministerial roundtable to explore what more can be done and aim to secure commitments from businesses to help tackle social isolation and loneliness within their workforces and within society more generally.

How did we develop the Strategy?

We started by speaking to a number of stakeholders about what they consider important. We hosted an event in March 2017 which a range of organisations attended to tell us what they thought a Strategy on these issues should contain and what we should be focusing on. Based on this, we published a draft Strategy for public consultation in January 2018, so we could ask everyone what they think. We hosted community events in different parts of Scotland so that people could come along and speak to us, and tell us what mattered to them.

When the consultation closed at the end of April 2018, we had received over 400 responses from individuals and organisations as well as written summaries from the 17 engagement events held across Scotland. We asked a company to analyse these responses and draw out the key themes in order to understand what people and organisations had told us. We published a report[5] on these findings at the end of October 2018, and continued to discuss key issues with stakeholders.

We're immensely grateful to everyone who took the time to tell us what matters to them, what needs to change and how we can all work together to achieve that. We hope that this Strategy will build on the excellent work that has gone before it and help take us forward. This is just the start of important work over the months and years ahead to build our understanding, strengthen our responses to social isolation and loneliness, and ensure we're taking the steps necessary to build a truly connected Scotland.


Email: Trevor Owen

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