A Connected Scotland: tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger communities

This strategy sets out our vision for a Scotland where everyone has the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships, regardless of age, status, circumstance, or identity.

Equal Opportunities Committee Recommendations: How are we doing?




1. We recommend that the Scottish Government develops a national strategy on social isolation that ensures that the issue is integrated within all policy considerations so that the impact of isolation and loneliness is understood and tackled across Scotland.

This draft strategy will be consulted on and finalised in 2018. We will continue to work across government to highlight ways in which other policy areas can address social isolation and loneliness.


2. We recommend that the Scottish Government ensures that the issues of social isolation and loneliness are built into the plans and strategies of health and social care partnerships across Scotland.

We will continue to work with Health and Social Care Partnerships across the country to ensure that social isolation and loneliness features more prominently on their agendas. Progress is beginning to be made on this: Glasgow Health and Social Care partnership have announced a Wellbeing For Longer fund, running from 2017-18, which has the aim of supporting third sector organisations to deliver projects targeted at helping residents of Glasgow at risk of experiencing social isolation.


3. We recommend that the Scottish Government should engage with stakeholders to design a national publicity campaign to tackle stigma on loneliness, show what communities can do and highlight the importance of social contact for everyone, no matter what their age.

We aim to raise awareness of social isolation through working with key stakeholders to identify innovative ways we can raise awareness through education as well as public facing initiatives such as social media channels.

Early 2018

4. We recommend that the Scottish Government develops and supports a focused campaign for school and youth group settings that promotes a positive message for preventing social isolation and uses a peer-to-peer approach. We would welcome a response from the Scottish Government on how this can sit alongside a range of strategies dealing with bullying.

The Scottish Government is currently undertaking a review of Personal and Social Education in schools, as well as taking forward a review of counselling services within education.

By end 2018

5. We recommend that training on social isolation and its impact is given to "named persons" established under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

The Scottish Government believes that whilst it is important that named persons are aware of the impacts of social isolation and loneliness, it is a pressing matter for all practitioners working with our children and young people. We will continue to work to make sure that practitioners, as well as policy makers and the general public, have a more complete understanding of the prevalence and impacts of social isolation and loneliness.


6. We recommend that the Scottish Government should share what is learned from the Deep End project's evaluation across Scotland.

The Glasgow Centre for Population Health published a report of The Deep End Advice Worker Project in September 2017. This report noted that:

The Deep End Advice Worker project developed and tested approaches to delivering advice services from two GP practices in Parkhead, Glasgow. Through the delivery of finance, debt, social security and housing advice from a trusted setting ( i.e. general practice), the project aimed to improve social and economic outcomes for people in the local area. It also sought to reduce the time medical staff spent on non-clinical issues.

The conclusions of the report highlighted the positive impact link workers have, both for the people of the community, and for the health care professionals working in the practice:

GP s suggested this contributed to stronger patient-doctor relationships, helped reduce their non-clinical workloads and freed up time to deliver primary healthcare [43] .


7. We recommend that the Scottish Government includes link worker systems in any national strategy development.

The Scottish Government has committed to introducing 250 link workers by 2021.

By 2021

8. We recommend that the Scottish Government invests in the evaluation of existing best practice in order to develop future interventions and improve the link to preventative health spending decisions that will improve the lives of people affected by isolation and loneliness.

Our Social Isolation and Loneliness fund enabled community projects to deliver successful initiatives which targeted a diverse range of groups. The end of year report, compiled by the Voluntary Action Fund ( VAF)A, provided several examples of good practice, and highlighted particular approaches that demonstrably reduced social isolation and loneliness.


9. We recommend that the Scottish Government commissions research on the prevalence of social isolation and loneliness in Scotland and identifies the typical profile of people who are most at risk of being socially isolated and lonely.

We commissioned research to understand the prevalence of social isolation and loneliness which identified that, contrary to the popular image conjured by social isolation of an older person sitting at home alone; high numbers of younger people were affected by social isolation.

However, other publically available research has identified a wide range of cohorts that are at risk of social isolation and loneliness:

  • People living in poverty
  • Young mothers
  • LGBTI people
  • Refugees
  • Minority Ethnic groups
  • Carers
  • People faced with bereavement
  • People going through transition periods

It is important to recognise that even people with family connections can become socially isolated. It has been demonstrated that families with disabled children are at risk of becoming socially isolated. A UK wide survey in 2011 found that 72% experience mental ill health due to isolation, 65% reported feeling isolated frequently, and more than half 56% felt their isolation was due to poor support from statutory services [44] .


10. We also recommend that research is taken forward to assess the physical and mental impacts of social isolation alongside an evaluation of the benefits and experiences of social prescribing.

The physical and mental impacts of social isolation are well documented.

The Campaign to End Loneliness has undertaken a literature review exercise to highlight the links between loneliness and health. It found that:

  • Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%
  • Loneliness puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline
  • Lonely individuals are more prone to depression [45]

Research has been undertaken on the impact social prescribing has on mental health in a wider sense, which states that:

There is promising evidence that social prescribing can be effective in increasing access to services such as self-help resources and financial advice; reducing social isolation [46] .

Recent academic literature focused on 35 social prescribing schemes in the UK found that these schemes have particular benefits for individuals, including:

  • Increase in confidence
  • Greater feelings of empowerment

Improvements in mood and psychological or mental wellbeing, linked to reduced depression [47] .


11. We recommend that the Scottish Government works with local authorities to improve the availability of community and public transport.

We're investing £53.5 million in bus services to keep fares affordable, and are continuing to support the National Concessionary Travel Scheme to allow older and disabled people improved access to services, facilities and social networks by free scheduled bus services. We're supporting local community transport in partnership with local authorities by providing funding for the Community Transport Association to develop the sector. The Scottish Government/Local Authority Concordat ensures that the Scottish network of community transport operators is being shaped by local authority and community planning decisions. We have also committed to bringing forward a Transport Bill this year which will provide local authorities with flexible options to improve bus services in their local areas.


12. We recommend that the issue of transport policy is included as a strand in any social isolation strategy.

As transport is a central part of enabling people to connect with others in their communities face to face, we're taking forward a review of our National Transport Strategy with accessibility identified as a central priority.


13. We recommend that the Scottish Government encourages the health and social care partnerships to incorporate housing considerations and links with housing professionals in its planning of services.

The Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Act 2014 already requires housing providers to be represented on the Strategic Planning Group of each local health and social care partnership, the group that oversees the strategic commissioning process. Most current strategic commissioning plans include a Housing Contribution Statement. Ongoing, The Improvement Hub at Healthcare Improvement Scotland has a dedicated housing programme, 'Place, Home and Housing'. The programme aims to make key improvements to strategic planning of housing and related services to provide people with a home environment that supports greater independence and improved health and wellbeing.


14. We recommend that the Scottish Government considers the issue of social isolation and loneliness within care settings and sheltered housing as part of any strategy and campaign work.

We are in the process of refreshing our Age, Home and Community strategy, which is due for publication in 2018. The first version of the strategy, published in 2012, recognised the importance of housing to achieving health and social care objectives, including reducing unplanned hospital admissions and promoting independent living.


15. To address social isolation and loneliness we also recommend that the Scottish Government promotes innovation in future housing development in:

  • Planning and location
  • Design and construction
  • Models of occupancy

We have developed an 'app' to increase the reach of our Place Standard Tool, which will support more communities to work with stakeholders to assess the quality of their place. We're currently reviewing the planning system and proposing a range of measures to give communities a stronger voice in decisions about the future of their places. To this end, we have recently introduced our Planning Bill to Parliament.


16. We recommend that any Scottish Government research on age and social isolation examines the potential positive and negative impacts of technology on people who are socially isolated and lonely.

There is considerable research into the positive and negative impacts of technology on people who are socially isolated. Work by the Carnegie Trust has identified that digital participation has the potential to increase social interaction. However, recent academic studies have identified that technology, and particularly social media, can lead to people becoming socially isolated [48] .



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