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.

Priority 2 - Play our part

We think that the role of 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, building the capacity of the third sector, and improving digital participation - that makes a real difference here. We want to continue this work and to establish a clear link between progress across these fields in reducing social isolation and loneliness. But we also want to hear from you about what's important in tackling social isolation and loneliness, and what you want us to be doing

Reduce stigma

This starts with working to raise the profile of these issues across Scotland. We know that stigma continues to attach itself to these issues and people are generally reluctant to admit that they may experience loneliness, or that they may be socially isolated. Having a strategy is a step in the right direction towards addressing this, but we need to do more. So we want work with key partners to identify innovative ways in which we can raise awareness through education and public facing initiatives.

Question 8: How can we all work together to challenge stigma around social isolation and loneliness, and raise awareness of it as an issue? Are there examples of people doing this well that you're aware of?

Encourage kindness

The concept of kindness may seem an unusual one for inclusion in a Government strategy. However, recent work by the Carnegie UK Trust [20] has identified that kindness can go a long way to reducing social isolation and loneliness, and has also identified what contributes to creating kinder communities. This work has helped to kick start a real conversation about the importance of kindness, and we want to ensure that the ambitions of this Strategy are rooted in that conversation as it progresses.

Question 9: Using the Carnegie UK Trust's report as a starting point, what more should we be doing to promote kindness as a route to reducing social isolation and loneliness?

Tackle poverty

Recent studies have suggested that social isolation can interact with socio-economic status [21] : 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 [22] ; and in December 2017, the Scottish Parliament passed the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill into law which will establish Scotland as the only part of the UK with ambitious statutory income targets to reduce child poverty by 2030.

We have also consulted on a socio-economic duty, which will ensure that public bodies take full consideration of socio-economic disadvantage when making important decisions. Other key actions include the expansion of early learning and childcare provision and the establishment of a national poverty and inequality commission. The Fairer Scotland Action Plan already makes clear links to this Strategy, and we want to do further work to understand both the opportunities and barriers that exist within relatively deprived communities as well as how tackling social isolation can contribute to tackling poverty and inequality.

Question 10: How can we ensure that those who experience both poverty and social isolation receive the right support?

Addressing inequality

As well as creating the conditions nationally and empowering communities to reduce social isolation across the whole population, it's also vital that we seek to address inequalities that impact at different stages of people's lives and on particular groups of people within society. We want to ensure that our approach takes account of different identities and characteristics, addressing the specific barriers faced by groups protected under equality legislation [23] .

We also recognise that older people and younger people can be at risk for different reasons, and that long term health conditions (both physical and mental) can play a part. People 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; becoming unemployed; parenthood; retirement; the end of an intimate relationship; and bereavement.

In order to effectively tackle social isolation, we must focus on key life stages and consider how to best support those affected. We also need to consider the wider range of vulnerable groups - including carers, the unemployed, survivors of abuse, homeless people, those with addictions and offenders.

We'll therefore take forward a broad impact assessment that seeks to capture the evidence available around the experience of different population groups, and consider the merits of tailored interventions as well as how we can seek to build inclusion across services and target hard to reach groups.

Question 11: What do we need to be doing more of (or less of) to ensure that we tackle social isolation and loneliness for the specific life stages and groups mentioned above?

Promote and improve health and wellbeing

We know that social isolation and loneliness can contribute to poor health and wellbeing, and conversely, people with poor physical and/or mental health may become more isolated due to the barriers their conditions present. That's why the new Health and Social Care Standards take a human rights based approach to ensure that care is tailored to the individual. The standards include points such as "I am asked about my lifestyle preferences and aspirations and supported to achieve these," as well as "I am supported to participate fully and actively in my community." These standards are applicable to all health and care services and can inspire innovative practice which can help reduce isolation and ensure the individual remains connected to the things that matter to them. The new Integration Authorities have an important role in ensuring that people in the community are supported to improve health and wellbeing, and we want to work with them to consider how they might address these issues in their localities.

We're also committed to improving mental health as set out in our 10 year strategy published in 2017, which recognises distinctive experiences of isolation within rural communities, and commits to support the further development of the National Rural Mental Health Forum to reflect the unique challenges presented by rural isolation. We'll continue to support front line initiatives such as Breathing Space, a telephone service for people experiencing anxiety or low mood, and will commence a refresh of our anti-suicide strategy this year.

The changing landscape around health and social care, as well as an ever greater focus on initiatives like realistic medicine [24] , presents an opportunity to consider how community based care can be delivered to reduce social isolation and loneliness, and how health services more broadly can build in a holistic approach to improving health and wellbeing that recognises the social conditions of an individual's life. We funded a pilot community links worker programme [25] in Glasgow and Dundee and have committed to introducing 250 link workers by the end of this Parliament.

We also recognise that deterioration in physical health can contribute to someone becoming socially isolated. The myth that falls are simply a part of the ageing process normalises an event that can lead chronic loneliness. It is also true that the fear of falling is extremely common and can in itself lead to people becoming socially isolated. The Scottish Government sponsored National Falls Programme has had a focus on falls prevention since 2010. The 'Prevention and Management of Falls in the Community: A Framework for Action 2014-16' aimed to aid the prevention of falls and put a support network in place for older people who have had a fall and have been identified at risk of further unintentional harm. We are currently taking forward work to build on this framework by encouraging a whole system approach to fall prevention and management in partnership with a multi-agency group through the Active and Independent Living Programme, and linking the fear of falling with social isolation.

Good quality social care can go a long way to alleviating social isolation and loneliness by enabling people to continue living independently within their communities [26] . The Self-directed Support Act (2014) enshrines in law that the cared for person must be involved in decisions about their care and support. This transfer of power from practitioner to the individual seeks to ensure that the supported person is able to direct their care in a way that meets their outcomes and makes their life fulfilling. Many people now opt to move away from traditional home visits and use this support creatively for night classes for example or to employ a Personal Assistant to get them out and about. This way of delivering care and support can help to reduce social isolation and loneliness as well as increasing social connectedness.

Physical activity interventions have a number of benefits for a person's health and wellbeing, including becoming physically fitter and improving mental health. However, they also provide valuable opportunities for people who are socially isolated or lonely to meet new people and build their social network. We fund Paths for All through our Active Scotland Division to develop and deliver an action plan for Let's Get Scotland Walking - the National Walking Strategy, and to ensure that their broader activities deliver against other national policy imperatives relating to physical activity, including the Active Scotland Outcomes. During the Equal Opportunities Committee's inquiry into age and social isolation, Paths for All presented evidence that demonstrated people who were socially isolated benefited from taking part in local walking groups [27] .

Question 12: How can health services play their part in better reducing social isolation and loneliness?

Question 13: How can we ensure that the social care sector contributes to tackling social isolation and loneliness?

Question 14: What more can we do to encourage people to get involved in local groups that promote physical activity?

Give our young people the best start in life

2018 marks the Year of Young People, which provides an opportunity to celebrate the contribution of young people in Scotland whilst redoubling our efforts to tackle the issues that inhibit our young people from fulfilling their true potential and creating a climate that allows them to succeed.

Supporting the development of strong and positive relationships is important, so that as people move through life they're better able to establish and nurture their social connections. We've already published guidance which focuses on improving relationships and behaviour in learning establishments, and we have recently completed the first phase of a national review of personal and social education ( PSE) and the role of guidance in local authority schools [28] .

We know that bullying can lead to children becoming isolated, which is why we've recently published our National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland's Children and Young People [29] . This framework sets out our desire for all children and young people in Scotland to grow up free from bullying with the ability to "develop respectful, responsible and confident relationships with other children, young people and adults."

The growing evidence on Adverse Childhood Experiences ( ACEs) demonstrates the ways in which childhood experiences can have significant impacts on a person's ability to form and maintain relationships in childhood and with long-lasting impacts into adulthood. This is why it is so important to ensure children have positive relationship experiences. The 2017-18 Programme for Government set out a commitment to prevent ACEs occurring and to mitigate the negative impacts where ACEs do occur and support the resilience of children and adults to overcome ACEs [30] . This commitment is part of the wider Getting it right for every child national approach to safeguarding the wellbeing of our children and young people.

As part of the Year of Young People, we'll also look at what more we can do to develop intergenerational practice and encourage contact between people of all ages. This will help to challenge ageism and discrimination and ensure that people of all ages are more included in their communities.

Question 15: How can we better equip people with the skills to establish and nurture strong and positive social connections?

Question 16: How can we better ensure that our services that support children and young people are better able to identify where someone may be socially isolated, and capable of offering the right support?

Promote the third sector and volunteering

The third sector has an important dual role to play in tackling social isolation and loneliness. Third sector organisations are generally rooted within their communities and are well positioned to offer interventions and support in a different way to statutory services. They also help to ensure that the voices of individuals and communities are heard in the design and development of services. We're working to develop the third sector and have sought to protect investment in the sector.

Social enterprises, as businesses that trade for the common good, provide support to people traditional sectors can struggle to reach. Because of this, social enterprises have a key role to play in strengthening social capital in our local communities and tackling social isolation and loneliness. To ensure that social enterprises continue to play an increasingly significant role, the Scottish Government has developed a world-leading eco-system of support for social enterprise: developing a ten-year national strategy [31] and action plan [32] , and providing free business support for individual social entrepreneurs.

Volunteering, in all its forms, is central to ensuring that Scotland successfully achieves ambitious and meaningful change for those facing social isolation and loneliness. We know that volunteering has wide ranging benefits for the individuals involved, both those who give their time to help and people who use services. But it also has a positive impact on communities, and can go a long way to help building the connected Scotland we want to see.

Levels of volunteering in Scotland have been stable since 2009 for adults, and increasing in younger people. However there remains a challenge in engaging people who are elderly or disadvantaged, with areas of deprivation consistently having lower levels of volunteering than more affluent areas [33] . Many older people (73%) recognise that choosing to volunteer would have positive impacts for them, yet less than half report to have volunteered in the last year [34] . Our Volunteer Support Fund [35] seeks to improve the diversity of volunteers, and in 2016-17, resulted in 3,505 new volunteers being recruited from disadvantaged backgrounds. [36]

Question 17: How can the third sector and social enterprise play a stronger role in helping to tackle social isolation and loneliness in communities?

Question 18: What more can the Scottish Government do to promote volunteering and help remove barriers to volunteering, particular for those who may be isolated?

Working with business

People spend a significant amount of time at work, and we see the role of employers and business as important. Our Fair Work Framework [37] 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. Part of that is about creating a culture that is truly inclusive and is a crucial step to ensure no one becomes isolated in the workplace and that they have a balanced approach to work which enables the building and maintenance of relationships outside of work. This is an area that the Scottish Government has sought to lead by example, introducing flexible working patterns that allow employees to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This is good for employers too - it is estimated that loneliness and social isolation leads to an estimated £2.5 billion annual cost to employers in the UK through absence, caring activity, reduced productivity and staff turnover [38] .

Businesses can also be a place where some people experience the bulk of their social interactions. Research has shown that those that use local amenities regularly are less likely to experience social isolation [39] . The Joseph Rowntree foundation's report, Between Kith and Kin and Formal Services, also highlights some examples of people going above and beyond in their job role to help people who are at risk of becoming socially isolated [40] .

Question 19: How can employers and business play their part in reducing social isolation and loneliness?

Create high quality places

The extent to which people interact is heavily determined by their lived environment. Older people and those with disabilities need particular support, and we'll be bringing forward a refreshed "Age Home & Community" Strategy in 2018 to ensure this.

The planning system also has a vital role to play in delivering high-quality places for Scotland, and delivering high-quality buildings, infrastructure and spaces in the right locations helps provide choice over where to live and style of home, choice as to how to access amenities and services and the choice to live more active, engaged, independent and healthy lifestyles. We're reviewing the planning system and are proposing a range of measures to give communities a stronger voice in decisions about the future of their places through our 2017 Planning Bill.

We've also developed the Place Standard tool in partnership with NHS Health Scotland and Architecture & Design Scotland which allows communities to work together constructively to assess the quality of their place and to prioritise areas for action.

We will look to roll out this initiative further, as well as develop thinking on how the lived environment both helps and hinders efforts to socially connect.

Question 20: What are the barriers presented by the lived environment in terms of socially connecting? How can these be addressed?

Promote Scotland's culture and heritage

Scotland's culture and heritage provides an opportunity for people to come together, appreciate the arts and connect through shared interests. To make the most of our assets, we're developing a culture strategy for Scotland to build on the existing strengths of the cultural and creative sectors, highlighting the intrinsic value these areas have in promoting societal cohesion and aiding integration. We want to look at increase access to culture and make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to take part in or contribute to culture in Scotland.

Recognising the importance of libraries, we're investing in the Public Library Improvement Fund to support innovative ways for people to use public libraries, and are also taking forward the development of the first strategy for public libraries in Scotland. We will work to ensure that our approach to increasing access includes hard to reach groups, and consider further how to build on what libraries already offer as community hubs with a role in tackling these issues.

Question 21: How can cultural services and agencies play their part in reducing social isolation and loneliness?

Improve infrastructure

Accessible transport is vital to people being able to meet face to face and stay socially active, particular for those in rural areas or later in life. We're taking forward a review of our National Transport Strategy, with accessibility identified early on as an important theme. We'll also bring forward a new Transport Bill to lock in improvements to the system. We're investing 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 also supporting local community transport in partnership with local authorities, including providing funding for the Community Transport Association to develop the sector and investing in major trunk road improvements. In rural areas and the Islands, we recognise that high air fares pose a challenge and are committed to addressing this through the Air Discounts Scheme. We've also introduced Road Equivalent Tariff fares on Clyde and Hebrides which includes discounts for those with mobility needs.

Question 22: How can transport services play their part in reducing social isolation and loneliness?

Access to digital technology for people clearly has a role to play in building social connections, and technology provides new and innovative opportunities to support people who may be isolated. Our aim is to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to participate in the digital world and to use the power of the internet to enable social mobility and tackle persistent inequalities. This starts with basic digital skills, but also requires infrastructure in place to allow access to digital technology.

We're investing heavily to extend superfast broadband access to all premises in Scotland by the end of 2021, and over that period will be developing prototype affordable internet access at home and in other trusted settings.

Emerging technology presents both opportunities and challenges, and we will look at different opportunities to harness the opportunities to allow people to connect with each other. We also recognise that the digital world poses challenges and risks - that's why we're investing in a number of programmes and initiatives that promote internet safety for children and young people, including Police Scotland's Choices for Life Online Peer Mentoring Programme and the Mentors in Violence Prevention Programme.

Technology is a critical aspect of efforts to tackle social isolation and loneliness - and we will look carefully at what works as well as how we can build online resilience and protect people from threats.

Question 23: How best can we ensure that people have both access to digital technology and the ability to use it?


Back to top