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.

Priority 1: Empower communities and build shared ownership

Community: a social group of any size whose members may reside in a specific locality and are considered collectively, especially in the context of social values and responsibilities.

Community cohesion and empowerment

We know that building cohesive, resilient and supportive communities requires strong social networks. Communities, and the people within them, need to be protected and feel safe; they need to have strong networks; there must be good access to appropriate community facilities and places to meet; towns and high streets should act as a focal point for social and economic interactions, and communities need to be fair and inclusive, where everyone has a voice and can participate. That's why we are working to promote inclusive growth, champion community participation and ownership, ensure stability and flexibility of funding for third sector organisations, and support integrated working through community planning partnerships.

Our ongoing work to improve health and wellbeing, the lived and built environment and accessibility of transport demonstrate the importance of a relational, person-centred approach that tackles the root causes of poor outcomes like social isolation and loneliness. This kind of approach is crucial if we are to improve wellbeing and life chances for people across Scotland and successfully contribute to the delivery of national outcomes. We will continue to focus on embedding these principles and ensuring that local communities have the tools at their disposal to shape what happens in their areas.

We're working to ensure that communities can make a difference on their own terms. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 gives communities more opportunities here, and by creating new rights for community bodies and placing new duties on public authorities, the Act strengthens the voices of communities in the decisions that matter to them and makes it easier for communities to take on public sector land and buildings.

Spotlight: Bridgend Farmhouse

Bridgend Farmhouse is a community owned and run charitable organisation in south Edinburgh with a mission to ensure their now renovated farmhouse exists as a sustainable community-owned centre for learning, eating and exercise, where all can learn, work and grow together to develop a flourishing community and place. The Farmhouse was one of the first urban assets to be transferred under community empowerment legislation. Volunteers are central to everything it initiates, develops and delivers. Activities include practical activities (cooking, arts, crafts, upcycling and outdoor pursuits), an oral history project, a community cafe and an Acorn Fund for local people to develop their own projects. The Farmhouse provides a place for people of all ages to come together and connect through shared pursuits and a common interest in their community.

Ensuring that communities can take forward this agenda means devolving more power to them. Our comprehensive review of local governance launched jointly with COSLA involves a conversation with communities called Democracy Matters. We want people to tell us if there are decisions which, if taken by communities themselves, could lead to better outcomes. A future where people increasingly come together at community level to shape a shared future could, in itself, help to combat social isolation. To realise this important benefit, any new decision-making arrangements will need to be inclusive and accessible to all. The Review will also consider what powers public sector partners need to improve outcomes in the place they serve. Our response will include legislative change should that be required to transform local democracy in Scotland. Community planning is also important in supporting this agenda, so over 2019 we'll carry out a review of community planning to ensure local communities can shape decision-making in their areas, and we'll also engage with Community Planning Partners to raise awareness of this strategy and encourage them to consider local solutions to tackling social isolation and loneliness.

Giving communities more control over resources means they can make decisions that are right for them, including investment in community activities that bring people together. Participatory Budgeting, which is a way for people to have a direct say in how local money is spent, can help individuals feel connected to each other and to their communities and can instil a sense of ownership, trust and connectivity. It helps to bring people together to start conversations, leading to relationships that make communities stronger, building skills and confidence to become more engaged. This can build better social connections where all parts of community can benefit, especially those most at risk of being marginalised in society. Through our Community Choices Fund, we will continue to work in partnership with COSLA to help local authorities reach the target of having at least 1% of their budget subject to participatory budgeting by 2021, giving tens of thousands of people a say in how almost £100 million will be spent.

Spotlight: Shetland Community Choices Fund

Shetland Community Choices is a Participatory Budgeting project that involved residents in prioritising how they'd like to see £100,000 spent on local projects and services. Among others, one project the community decided to fund in March 2017 was Shetland Autism Awareness Raising Project.

With their funding, artist Vivian Ross-Smith and filmmaker Stephen Mercer ran a 10 week animation workshop open to anyone in Shetland with autism. Following on from these workshops, the group is continuing under the name Autism Friendly Shetland and meets weekly to offer a space for anyone with autism, plus their friends and family.

Invest resources in communities

We've already invested significant resources in local community-based projects. Our £500,000 Social Isolation and Loneliness Fund (2016/17)[29] supported a wide variety of local initiatives across Scotland, ranging from basic life skills to creative activities, friendship groups and support for vulnerable communities. The projects that received grants from this fund demonstrated that small grassroots projects located within communities can have a profoundly positive impact on people's lives[30].

Spotlight: PLUS Perth and Kinross

PLUS received just over £17,000 through the Social Isolation and Loneliness Fund and aimed at supporting people experiencing mental health problems in rural areas of Perthshire. The project organised a variety of events, including poetry appreciation sessions, lunch clubs and a gardening project. Interviewees stated that the flexibility and focus of equality between organisers and attendees was an encouraging attribute of the PLUS events, making service users feel more comfortable participating. The evaluation of the project demonstrated a total increase in the social connections of participants of 960%, rising from 20 to 212 for the entire group.

Other funding streams also support work to build social connections, including the Promoting Equality and Cohesion Fund[31], the People and Communities Fund[32] and the Community Choices Fund[33]. But this is about more than just money. Especially in a challenging financial climate, we have to ensure we work closely with the range of independent funders operating in Scotland to focus on what works whilst avoiding duplication, as well as making funding more accessible to smaller organisations with a greater emphasis on promoting the sustainability of funded projects. To maximise the impact of different funding streams, we'll encourage Directorates within the Scottish Government to consider how they can align their objectives and outcomes with the ambitions of this strategy. We'll also convene independent funders to consider what works in this area and explore how we can work more collaboratively.

We also recognise there is a need to build capacity in relation to tackling social isolation and loneliness, and to pilot innovative approaches that could help to make a real difference in this area. So we'll make up to £1 million available over the next two years to do this, and work with the new implementation group to consider how it can best be used. We'll also use the funding to support some of the early actions outlined in this strategy.

Every age, stage and walk of life

As well as creating the right conditions nationally and empowering communities to reduce social isolation across the whole population, we will seek to address the barriers and inequalities that impact at different stages of people's lives and on particular groups of people within society. We will work to ensure that our approach takes account of different identities and characteristics, addressing the specific barriers faced by groups protected under equality legislation[34]. We believe that an intersectional approach that recognises the multitude of characteristics and experiences of different people is vital.

We know that social isolation and loneliness manifest themselves in different ways in urban and rural communities. We want to develop our understanding of the differences in rural communities, and will therefore look to explore this further through engagement with bodies like Scottish Rural Action and Scotland's National Rural Mental Health Forum. Following the passage of the historic Islands (Scotland) Act in May 2018 to address the particular opportunities and challenges for island communities, we will seek to develop close links with the developing national islands plan and consider how relevant commitments in this Strategy can be 'Island-proofed' to ensure their effectiveness in those communities.

We will also seek to ensure that work to identify and roll out good practice approaches to address social isolation and loneliness explicitly reflects the rural dimension and acknowledges that different solutions may be required in rural and island settings.

Spotlight: The Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution

RSABI provide emotional, practical and financial support to individuals and their families across the agricultural sector including farming, crofting and growing. They provide financial, practical support and friendship to over 600 individuals and their families across a range of occupations which have the common theme of working on the land in Scotland. They run a helpline, which is available from 7am to 11pm, 365 days a year (0300 111 4166).

We recognise that people of all ages can be at risk for different reasons, and that long-term physical and/or mental health conditions, can also play a significant part. To ensure that we improve support for older people, we will publish an Older People's Framework in March 2019. The Framework will focus on highlighting the positive contributions made by older people – whether that is through the (often unpaid) provision of caring responsibilities of family members or volunteering in their local community; tackling the negative perceptions of older people, often perpetuated in the media, that they are a burden or drain on society and the root cause of problems that young people now face; and challenging the barriers people face as they age, whether that is accessing health and social care services, transport, appropriate housing or employment. We will continue to work with and support key stakeholders as well as take forward our work across government to identify areas where we can deliver better outcomes for people as they age to ensure that they do not become socially isolated. Significant events such as ill-health, retirement or a bereavement can have a significant impact, and we will work to ensure that barriers are identified and targeted. Dementia can also have a significant impact. People with dementia and their families have traditionally been at risk of losing touch with wider family, friends and community connections as a result of the illness – and are potentially at risk of other mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. We will continue to implement our National Dementia Strategy (2017-2020) to improve the quality of life for people with dementia, including addressing social isolation and loneliness. This includes key work to support implementation of our national post-diagnostic commitment, to ensure that people with dementia retain social connections, access to leisure, cultural and other activities and wider civic participation.

Spotlight: Knowing Me, Knowing You – Alzheimer Scotland

Knowing me, knowing you is a volunteer buddying scheme across Lanarkshire and funded by the Life Changes Trust to help people through reminiscence therapy within their own homes. Reminiscence activities encompass a range of topics including sport, local heritage, working life and culture. Memories are gathered in a life-story book completed by the volunteer alongside the person with dementia and their families. The service gives carers the opportunity for added respite and time to pursue activities and relationships which in turn reduces their sense of social isolation and loneliness. It supports people living with dementia to build their confidence, make more social connections, take up activities that they previously enjoyed and try new activities.

For children and young people (and indeed all of Scotland), 2018 marked the Year of Young People, and has provided an opportunity to celebrate the contribution young people make to society in Scotland. Children and young people can experience social isolation and loneliness, and we want to make sure our efforts are inclusive of them – so we have published a draft Child Rights and Wellbeing Assessment alongside this strategy and will use this to develop our approach further. The Year of Young People has seen us redouble our efforts to create a climate in which our young people can succeed and to tackle the issues that inhibit them from fulfilling their true potential – one of those is their experience of loneliness and social isolation. We are working with partners in the public and third sector to develop a 10-year Child and Adolescent Health and Wellbeing Action Plan which will cover both physical and mental wellbeing. We know that relationships are at the centre of children and young people's health and wellbeing and are key to building resilience throughout life, and this will therefore be a key focus of the Action Plan. Recognising the value of youth work in delivering better outcomes for young people, we will seek to make links between this Strategy and the next iteration of the National Youth Work strategy.

We know that bullying can lead to children becoming isolated, which is one of the reasons we updated our National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland's Children and Young People[35]. Respect for All has been written for everyone who works with children and young people and provides a holistic framework to address all aspects of bullying.

The implementation of Respect for All is delivered through respectme, the national anti-bullying service, who provide support to local authorities youth groups and all those working with children and young people, to build confidence and capacity to address bullying effectively. respectme also produce a number of resources for schools and parents on managing and responding to incidents of bullying. These resources include the potential signs to look out for if there is concern that a child is being bullied, including the child withdrawing. Respectme's website contains a full suite of resources and contact details that are available to everyone[36].

There is growing recognition that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), including abuse, neglect and household adversities (e.g. parental substance misuse, parental imprisonment) can impact on the healthy development of children and young people and can potentially lead to significant, long-term consequences in adulthood. Such adversity and trauma can also impact significantly on a person's ability to form and maintain relationships. This is why it is so important to ensure people, young and old, have positive relationship experiences and that they have the opportunity to have their voices heard. Evidence shows that supporting people affected by adversity and trauma to establish safe and trusted relationships supports their resilience and improved health and wellbeing. In particular, a supportive relationship between a child and at least one trusted-adult has been found to be key to helping people overcome early life adversity or trauma. The 2018-19 Programme for Government reiterates our commitment to tackling ACEs and is part of our long-standing, national approach of Getting it right for every child, which is about families and services working together to address the needs of children and young people to support their wellbeing and improve outcomes.

Looking beyond age, anyone may be at greater risk when they have gone through a significant life transition and find themselves in a new situation with a changed social network. Examples are common to many and include changing school; starting and ending further/higher education; entering work or changing career; becoming unemployed; parenthood; retirement; the end of an intimate relationship; and bereavement. In order to effectively tackle social isolation, we want to better understand key life stages and consider how to best support those affected, so we will commission research to help us improve our understanding with a view to developing this strategy further.

Beyond age and stage, we also need to look at social isolation and loneliness through an equality lens. For example, we want to better understand how experiences and manifestations of social isolation and loneliness are gendered. Gender inequality continues to permeate society, and women continue to shoulder the bulk of caring responsibilities, have less access to power and resources, and continue to be overwhelmingly at risk of and subject to gender-based violence. All of this inhibits their space for action and may lead to them becoming more isolated. Men can also be impacted because they are men, and because gendered roles and stereotypes continue to persist. Older men in particular may experience difficulties when they stop working or lose their partner. Initiatives like Men's Sheds, where people (typically older men, but often younger men and women too) meet regularly for company and camaraderie, are strong examples of community-led projects which help to foster relationships and contribute to building local communities. Their positive mental and physical health benefits are backed up by evidence, so we'll continue to work with partners to develop this important health intervention nationally, including providing support to the Scottish Men's Sheds Association.

Minority groups also face impacts that relate to their experiences of prejudice, stigma and wider structural discrimination which again inhibits their space for action. We have published a draft Equality Impact Assessment alongside this strategy and will use the evidence in that to develop this approach further. We will work to build an intersectional approach to this work through developing links with programmes of work around race, disability, and improving the lives of Gypsy/Travellers. Through the BSL (British Sign Language) National Plan 2017-2023, we are committed to ensuring that D/deaf and Deafblind BSL users can be fully involved in daily and public life in Scotland, as active, healthy citizens. And for LGBTI people, we'll continue to build links with wider mental health policy and support work to tackle health inequalities.

Spotlight: Barrhead Men's Shed

Barrhead Men's Shed is a mixed shed that recognises that tackling loneliness and isolation is a significant driver in their formation, operation and purpose. This is why they are open four days a week, 52 weeks a year and hope to extend their opening hours. "All of our members are delighted to be part of our big family unit where we can enjoy the daily banter and help one another carry out the various tasks in our workshop. Our members are proud and delighted to help the local community, schools and nurseries and retirement homes, but most importantly take time to share, help and listen to our members who are living in social isolation. As one of our widowed members said, 'loneliness is a disease'. Let's all help to eradicate this disease in our society." – Alex Storrie, Chairman

There are groups in society that go above and beyond what is expected, sometimes at the expense of their own immediate needs and wellbeing. Scotland's carers deserve to be able to live a full life, which includes time for socially connecting. We'll continue to promote the Carer Positive scheme, encouraging employers to adopt flexible employment policies and make it easier for carers to balance work and caring; and we'll work to embed the recently established rights for Scotland's 790,000 unpaid carers under the Carers (Scotland) Act – this includes carer's rights to a plan to identify their own needs and the outcomes that are important to them. Some members of the Armed Forces transitioning back to the civilian world from a close knit military community may find themselves experiencing social isolation or loneliness. To help combat this, we will work with stakeholders to tackle the stigma associated in admitting the need for help, which can be particularly prevalent in a community that has historically emphasised self-help. We will work alongside the UK Government and others to take forward the 'Strategy for our Veterans[37]' to help ensure that, over the next decade, we respond to the changing needs of our veterans by setting the right conditions for society to empower and support them. In taking this work forward, we'll engage with a range of veterans and veterans' organisations, both large and small, to better identify how we can support the Armed Forces community to strengthen social connections.

Autistic people and people with learning disabilities – and their families – are at risk of experiencing social isolation throughout their lives. They may require practical support, including befriender groups for both family members and the individual, more free-of-charge social opportunities, the provision of more inclusive play equipment in play parks, autism friendly community access and easily accessible information. We will ensure that this Strategy links to our recently refreshed priorities for people with autism and the updated Keys to Life strategy for people with learning disabilities, which are working to ensure that they live healthier lives, have choice and control over the services they use, and are supported to be independent and active citizens.

We will also consider other vulnerable groups – including unemployed people, survivors of abuse, homeless people, those with addictions, and offenders. There are a number of relevant strategies we'll look to build closer links with, including our first homelessness action plan, revised alcohol and drugs strategy, and our Equally Safe strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls. As part of supporting offenders to reintegrate into society, we will consider how best to engage with community justice organisations in order to distribute information about relevant support services that help to improve social connections for offenders.

We know that young parents are particularly vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness[38]. Through funding from the Scottish Government's CYPEIF and ALEC Fund, Young Scot have been working with young parents in Scotland to develop online resources for the 'Ping' website. The young parents have identified peer support groups as important for providing friendships, support and an opportunity to share experiences with someone in the same situation as them. We'll continue to build links between this strategy and the Pregnancy and Parenthood strategy to ensure that social isolation and loneliness are considered as part of a holistic approach to supporting young parents. Wider work on pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace is emphasising the importance of 'keeping in touch' days for pregnant women and new mothers through websites such as Ready Steady Baby, NHS Inform and The Parent Club, and we have also worked with YoungScot to tailor a Top Ten Tips guide specifically for young mums.

Spotlight: Rachel and Amelia at Fife Gingerbread

Rachel was referred to the Fife Teen Parent Project by the Family Nurse Partnership when her daughter Amelia was born. She was isolated and experiencing domestic abuse. However, after splitting from her partner and moving to a new area, Rachel contacted the Teen Parent Workers via Facebook to say she was ready and keen to access support services. Rachel met directly with a support worker once a week to build up a relationship – this included attending a Bookbug session at the local library, meeting for a coffee and a blether, and taking Amelia to the local park to get used to their new local community. After six weeks of building this rapport with her support worker, Rachel felt she was ready to start attending groups with other Mums. Rachel was able to build and maintain positive friendships with other Mums in the group, helping build her confidence and self-esteem. Since, Rachel and Amelia have gone from strength to strength. With a bit of support, Rachel's determination to succeed has helped her build a peer-support network, secure a part-time job and become a self-sufficient provider for her family.

Recent studies have suggested that social isolation can interact with socio-economic status[39]. Living in poverty can lead to feelings of loneliness and social isolation, but it is also true that people suffering from social isolation are at risk of experiencing poverty. We remain committed to tackling poverty and inequality, and our Fairer Scotland Action Plan sets out 50 concrete actions that we will take in this Parliamentary term. We're making considerable progress on delivery of these actions, including having recently launched the Financial Health Check to provide personalised advice to help with the poverty premium people on low incomes face, and strengthening the referral pathways to money and welfare advice services for pregnant women and young families through Healthier, Wealthier Children. In April 2018, we introduced the Fairer Scotland Duty, a new responsibility on government and public bodies in Scotland to actively consider how they can reduce inequalities of outcome caused by socio-economic disadvantage, when making strategic decisions. We will work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission over the three-year implementation phase to ensure the duty does as it is intended, and have appointed a national coordinator who will support public bodies to help implement the duty successfully.

The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act, as well as setting ambitious statutory income targets to reduce child poverty by 2030, places a duty on Ministers to publish child poverty delivery plans. Our first Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan "Every Child, Every Chance", published in March 2018, committed us to a range of actions including investment in an intensive parental employment support programme to support parents on low incomes to work and earn more, delivering the Best Start Grant to provide additional resource to families on low incomes for each of their children at birth and at key points in their early years, and development of a new income supplement to provide additional financial support for low income families. We have already made progress on a number of commitments, including the introduction of a new national minimum school clothing grant of £100 per child, expanding access to free sanitary products across Scotland, and investing £1 million in Carnegie UK Trust's Affordable Credit Fund to provide genuine alternatives to high cost credit and to help tackle the poverty premium. The Poverty and Inequality Commission will move onto a statutory footing in 2019 which will help hold us to account for the progress we are making towards meeting our ambitious child poverty targets, and we are working with a number of Poverty Truth Commissions across the country to engage with people with lived experience of poverty which will help inform the ways in which tackling social isolation can contribute to tackling poverty and inequality.

Encouraging everyone to play their part

Social isolation and loneliness won't be solved by the actions of Government alone. Everyone has a part to play – whether they're delivering a service, running a business or working to improve their communities.

Reforming public services is at the heart of delivering against Scotland's Purpose and National Outcomes, with high-quality and person-centred services considered crucial to improving the wellbeing of people and communities. Grounded in the recommendations set out in the Christie Commission report of 2011, with its four key principles of prevention, partnership, people and performance, Scotland's ambitious programme of Public Service Reform particularly harnesses the local power of individuals, communities, places and frontline knowledge. Accordingly, the reform journey is a partnership with local government and the third sector that helps ensure our public services are sustainable, meet the needs of citizens and improve the lives of Scotland's people. To help public services better understand the role they can play in reducing social isolation and loneliness, we'll work with local government and the third sector to develop guidance and resources which will help to support integrating these considerations within wider reform of public services. We'll also work with the third sector and public services to better understand what a holistic pathway of support for someone experiencing chronic social isolation looks like, and how such a pathway could be embedded within wider systems.

Scotland's faith communities play a significant role in supporting many of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. We greatly value and appreciate our relationships with our diverse faith communities and welcome their contribution to communities throughout Scotland, and we believe that people of all faiths, and none, must be supported to follow their way of life. To achieve this, we will continue to work very closely with a number of faith community organisations, including those representing older people, women and other vulnerable groups who belong to minority faith communities. We also support Interfaith Scotland to promote interfaith dialogue and support faith and belief communities across the country. We believe that good interfaith dialogue helps to strengthen and enhance connections across communities, helping to lower barriers, eliminate fear and increase understanding.

Spotlight: AMINA Befriending Project, Dundee

The aim of the befriending project in Dundee is to address the increasing social isolation of Muslim and Minority Ethnic women over the age of 50, to support them to build their own social networks, live better quality lives and help them to make better decisions about their physical health. "I was depressed and lonely and became very ill. When I joined the group I started feeling better I am so grateful I got to join the group I didn't go out anywhere before. Nobody really organised activities like this before. Now I have something to look forward to and enjoy." – individual

People spend a significant amount of time at work, and we see the role of employers and business as important. Our Fair Work Framework[40] sets out our vision for a Scotland where fair work drives success, wellbeing and prosperity and offers employees an effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect. By adopting these principles, employers can begin creating the very best type of workplace culture that will aid the building of strong relationships with colleagues and provide rewarding work. Developing this culture is a crucial step towards ensuring individuals can take a balanced approach to work and no one becomes isolated in the workplace. This is good for employers too – it is estimated that social isolation and loneliness leads to an estimated annual cost of £2.5 billion to employers through absence, caring activity, reduced productivity and staff turnover[41]. Businesses can be a place where some experience the bulk of their social interactions. Research has shown that those who use local amenities regularly are less likely to experience social isolation[42]. The Joseph Rowntree foundation's report, Between Kith and Kin and Formal Services, also highlights some examples of people going above and beyond their job role to help people who are at risk of becoming socially isolated[43].

To strengthen the contribution of business to this agenda, we'll build links between this Strategy and the Fair Work agenda, and engage with key stakeholders in the business community to promote our ambitions in this area. Noting the importance of effective retirement planning, we'll encourage businesses to have pre-retirement conversations and explore alternative retirement options with their workers, to ensure that employees are supported. We'll also 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.

Spotlight: Tesco Maryhill

The Maryhill branch of Tesco has become a well cited example of people going the extra mile to help tackle social isolation and loneliness. Research has shown that supermarket staff can play a huge role in promoting community cohesion simply by spending a little time to get to know the people that regularly visit the store. There is also a part-time community champion employed by the company to understand issues in the community and use the resources of the supermarket to help.


Email: Trevor Owen

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