Social isolation and loneliness: Recovering our Connections 2023 to 2026

A Plan to take forward the delivery of A Connected Scotland – our strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections.

Section 1 – Foreword from the Minister for Equalities and Older People

In 2018 I was delighted to present 'A Connected Scotland' - the Scottish Government's first strategy to tackle Social Isolation and Loneliness and build stronger social connections.

A lot has happened since then. We made a strong start with the establishment of the National Implementation Group (now Social Isolation and Loneliness Advisory Group), comprising a range of organisations with experience of working with people experiencing social isolation and loneliness, but were then quickly faced with the realities of a global emergency in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. As I write these words in 2023, we are tentatively hoping that the worst of this health crisis is behind us, and we can now seek to rebuild and recover.

However, we are now faced with a new threat in the cost of living crisis. Without a doubt, this will also have an impact on people's ability to make and maintain connections, to take up opportunities to interact with one another, and to stay physically and mentally healthy. As a Government, we will fulfil our responsibility to address the cost crisis, in order that people can lead the full, active and connected lives they wish to lead. Our work on social isolation and loneliness is an important part of our efforts to support people's well-being and mental health during these continuing challenges.

The following plan, to take forward the ambitions of 'A Connected Scotland' strategy over the rest of this Parliament, sets out our next steps. Our four strategic priorities for action remain: to empower communities and build shared ownership; to foster positive attitudes and tackle stigma; to create opportunities for people to connect; and to support an infrastructure that fosters connection.

We know that social isolation and loneliness can affect anyone, at any age or stage of life. But during the pandemic it became clearer than ever that not everyone is affected equally. The pandemic meant that more people across society suffered as a result of social isolation and loneliness, but it has particularly impacted upon disabled people, younger people, and those who live alone. Individuals and families on low incomes are also disproportionately affected. As we start to emerge from the pandemic, some people are at risk from overlapping concerns – including both the health and the financial implications of social interaction. We know that social isolation and loneliness is bad for our health, both mental and physical. It is essential that we recognise who in society is most affected and focus our efforts to tackle these inequalities.

Since 'A Connected Scotland' was published, we have made – and will continue to make – strong and effective links across Government, recognising this is a complex issue that impacts on and is affected by a variety of government services and functions.

Of course, the Scottish Government cannot end loneliness by itself. Tackling this public health crisis is a shared responsibility across society, and requires a shared commitment. From Scottish Government, local government, NHS Scotland, communities, the private and third sectors, and down to each of us as individuals, everyone has a part to play.

Our Advisory Group has been invaluable, not only in the tremendous support provided by the individual organisations to people and communities over the last few years, for which I offer my grateful thanks, but in the guidance they have offered us in the development of this plan and priorities for the future.

The Scottish Government is committed to funding to support this important work. Within the first 100 days of the Parliament, we provided £1 million to support projects tackling social isolation and loneliness - including helplines, befriending, and practical support. Further funding in the coming years will enable projects and organisations to facilitate progress towards the priorities of 'A Connected Scotland' strategy, to contribute to the recovery and reduction in societal harm associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and to help mitigate some of the health effects of the cost crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has really shone a spotlight on how important it is to keep connected with each other. I am proud of the ways that our communities have come together to support each other, from friendly phone calls to bring company to isolated people, to providing meals for neighbours, to collecting shopping or prescriptions for those who were shielding. I hope that we will retain and build on these inspiring examples as we move forward, and continue to recover our connections, in order to help each other through ongoing challenges.

Christina McKelvie - Minister for Equalities and Older People



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