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 2 - What we are delivering and why it is important

The Scottish Government is proud to be one of the first countries to have published a social isolation and loneliness strategy, in 2018. 'A Connected Scotland'[1] – our strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections – sets out our vision and priorities for this cross-cutting, collaborative work.

A Connected Scotland Strategic Framework


A Scotland where individuals and communities are more connected, and everyone has the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships regardless of age, stage, circumstances or identity.

Primary Values

We are a society which treats all our people with kindness, dignity and compassion.

Primary National Outcomes

  • We are healthy and active.
  • We live in communities which are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe.
  • We grow up loved, safe and protected so that we realise our full potential.
  • We respect, protect and fulfil human rights and live free from discrimination.

Primary National Indicators

  • Places to Interact
  • Mental Wellbeing
  • Loneliness
  • Participation in cultural activity
  • Child Wellbeing and Happiness
  • Confidence of children and young people
  • Children have positive relationships
  • Physical activity

Strategic Outcomes

  • Understanding increases around SIAL and causes/impacts, along with understanding of what works to reduce it.
  • Social Isolation and Loneliness are reduced.
  • Harm resulting from the effects of social isolation and loneliness is reduced.
  • The conditions which help to reduce social isolation and loneliness are increasingly widespread.

The Primary National Outcomes for this strategy align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

Graphic of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Number 3: Good Health and Wellbeing
Graphic of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Number 10: Reduced Inequalities
Graphic of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Number 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Isolation and loneliness as a public health issue

We recognise that social isolation and loneliness (SIAL) is a public health issue, which can affect anyone at any age or stage of life. Loneliness can be short-term, or it can be chronic, when people feel lonely most or all of the time. Chronic loneliness has a greater negative impact on physical and mental health than short-term experiences.

As an example of the physical health impacts, World Health Organisation (WHO) research (2021)[2] on the effects of SIAL on older people, notes:

"There is strong evidence that social isolation and loneliness increase the risks of older adults for physical health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and stroke and for mental health conditions such as cognitive decline, dementia, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and suicide…. There is also evidence, although it is not as strong, that social isolation and loneliness increase the risks of other health conditions (e.g. type-2 diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol) and limit mobility and activities of daily living."

Regardless of age, SIAL has been cited as both a cause and consequence of poor mental wellbeing.[3] As Mental Health Foundation note in their 'All the Lonely People' report,

"On the one hand, people who are often or always lonely have a higher risk of developing certain mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. This kind of loneliness is also associated with increased thoughts of suicide. On the other hand, people with mental health problems are more likely to be more lonely."[4]

Further academic research is being undertaken to aid understanding of risks and protective factors, and the relationship between loneliness and wellbeing in younger people.[5]

Isolation and loneliness as an equality issue

We also recognise SIAL as an issue of inequality – although SIAL can affect anyone, the effects of social isolation, and experiences of loneliness, are not distributed equally across society. Instead we see greater risk for particular groups of people, often people experiencing other kinds of disadvantage, or who are members of groups which have historically experienced more discrimination than others. This is outlined further in section 3.

The plan aims to generate impact by collating and setting in motion a number of actions and commitments in Scottish Government and beyond, which will create conditions in which barriers to connection can start to be broken down. Section 4 of this document sets out our strategic priorities and the actions that will contribute towards meeting them.



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