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 4 - Strategic Priorities and Actions

This section of the plan maps the priorities of 'A Connected Scotland' onto the current landscape, identifies our targets for action and sets new goals.

Approximate indicators of timescale for the actions are given, as follows:

  • within the next 12 months;
  • medium term (envisaged as within the next three years); and,
  • longer term (over the life of this plan and beyond).

The plan covers a period in which we are attempting to recover from a global pandemic, whilst facing a new wave of COVID-19 cases in Scotland at the time of writing, and at the same time facing a severe cost of living crisis, which is expected to worsen.

The plan is intended to be flexible and responsive to evolving circumstances, and actions may be added or altered in order to achieve better outcomes in changing contexts. We will work closely with the Social Isolation and Loneliness Advisory Group throughout the life of this shared delivery plan.

Priority One: Empowering Communities and Building Shared Ownership

A Connected Scotland set out to empower communities – whether these are people who live in the same place, or people who share the same beliefs, values or interests – to make a difference in developing and maintaining connections. We need to recognise the effects of intersectionality – in other words, that our experiences are shaped by the different overlapping social categories that we all fall into, including our protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, such as sex, age, race, and disability; our socio-economic background; the place we live; or our employment status or occupation.[25] We understand that the challenges to building connections in urban and rural communities are likely to be different, and we want to ensure that everyone – including national and local government, public services, the private sector and, crucially, communities themselves – can play a role.

During a 2020 consultation survey on the effects of COVID-19 on communities, organisations who work with the Scottish Government on social justice and community issues – including third sector organisations Befriending Networks and Voluntary Health Scotland – identified 'capturing awareness of loneliness and isolation and mitigating going forward' as a fundamental long term priority, alongside other relevant priorities such as capitalising on the rise in community spirit and developing community-focused initiatives[26].

Empowering communities involves creating the conditions where, if barriers to connection exist, communities are able to identify these issues, and seek and implement appropriate solutions, making decisions to suit their own needs where possible, or working with others to achieve their desired outcomes.

Community Wealth Building is an economic development approach, which aims to ensure that wealth can be retained and recirculated within communities. It incorporates considerations such as fair work, inclusive ownership and maximising the benefits of public spend, and is a key practical means of delivering Wellbeing Economy objectives. Looking at SIAL initiatives and interventions through a community wealth building lens will help us understand how such an approach may contribute to achieving the ambitions of this strategy.

In our Programme for Government (2021), we recognised that

"the impacts of COVID‑19 have been and will continue to be experienced disproportionally by different groups, including women, those from Minority Ethnic communities, older people and disabled people. So, building on learning from those COVID‑19 impacts and responses as well as our work over the past decade to mainstream and embed equality and human rights, we will continue to seek to strengthen this in Scottish Government policy‑making as a single joint endeavour.

Ensuring that we truly embed equality, inclusion and human rights across the work of government and the wider public sector will be critical in helping Scotland to build back better in a way that targets our efforts towards those who have been disproportionately affected"[27].


To strengthen understanding of social isolation and loneliness in different contexts; and the impact of intersectionality we will:

Over the next 12 months

1.1 Engage with Scotland's National Rural Mental Health Forum to develop our understanding of the differences between experiences in different urban and rural communities.

1.2 Engage with veterans' organisations, and make use of available data and outcomes to better identify how we can support the Armed Forces community to strengthen social connections.

Over the medium term

1.3 Work with COSLA, the Scottish Refugee Council and partners to ensure that learning from projects funded through the New Scots Refugee Integration Delivery Project in 2021-22 which work with refugees and people seeking asylum on themes of communities and social connections and digital inclusion, is incorporated into the next New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy.

1.4 Collate and strengthen our evidence base to support greater understanding of:

  • how social isolation and loneliness affect, or are affected by, key life transitions, and
  • how people's protected characteristics (such as sex, age, race, disability) impact on their experience of social isolation and loneliness.

1.5 Explore ways in which British Sign Language (BSL) users' experience of connecting with others can be improved, in order that the need for BSL does not form a barrier to connection for BSL users.

Over the longer term

1.6 Focus on targeting low-income groups which are also known to be at highest risk of social isolation and loneliness (e.g. lone parents, families with young parents and disabled people), through our delivery plan for tackling child poverty - 'Best Start, Bright Futures'.

Our actions to tackle child poverty include our focus on long-term parental employment support, increased social security and measures to reduce household costs. We will work with our partners across the public, private and third sectors to deliver on the actions in Best Start, Bright Futures and drive progress towards our statutory child poverty targets.

To empower communities to make decisions that are right for them so they can identify and overcome barriers to connection affecting them, we will:

Over the next 12 months

1.7 Continue to engage with Community Planning Partners such as Convention Of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and Health and Social Care Partnerships (HSCPs) via the Social Isolation and Loneliness Advisory Group (SIALAG), to facilitate sharing of good practice and so support development of local solutions.

1.8 Promote and encourage use of the website, launched and further developed throughout 2022, and its resources including the Place Standard Tool and 20 Minute Neighbourhood guidance, in order to give communities the tools to consider barriers to connection in their places, assist with the development of Local Place Plans to meet their needs, and encourage active participation in community life from all parts of the community.

Over the longer term

1.9 Conclude the local governance review and introduce a Local Democracy Bill within this parliament.

As noted in A Connected Scotland: "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."

Work with COSLA to take forward widespread public engagement to ensure that any new democratic structures and processes offer people greater control over the future of their community and are open and welcoming to all.

1.10 Support members in the National Participatory Budgeting Strategic Group to drive the National PB Framework forward. Relevant priorities in framework include: priority 8 (inequality), 9 (public sector partners collaborating with the community to support health and wellbeing), 10 (sustainable transport to reduce inequality) and 15 (housing as it relates to wellbeing and place-based agenda). As noted in 'A Connected Scotland', participatory budgeting can help individuals feel connected to each other and to their communities.

To ensure that Scottish Government investments in communities (of interest and of place) align with the ambitions of this strategy, we will:

Over the next 12 months

1.11 Continue to build cross-portfolio links to improve awareness of the causes and impacts of social isolation and loneliness and ensure this public health issue is given due consideration in policy development, particularly for those groups shown to be most at risk.

1.12 Ensure that the forthcoming Youth Work Strategy reflects the importance of connection and relationships to young people.

To build shared ownership across the public, private and third sectors, we will:

Over the short-medium term

1.13 Engage with representatives from the business community and third sector, to explore further what more the private sector can do to tackle social isolation and loneliness, including consideration of places where people interact and how those places are accessed. In the short-term, we envisage engagement taking the form of a round-table event.

Over the longer term

1.14 Encourage greater generational diversity within workplaces, to promote diversity and inclusivity, encourage mentorship and knowledge-sharing, foster collaboration and innovation and promote social connections and support.

1.15 Work with local government and the third sector to ensure that lived experience of individuals, families and communities can better inform the consideration of social isolation and loneliness in the development of public services, and share good practice. Support and enable the voice of lived experience and ensure ethics and accessibility are given proper consideration.

1.16 Support and strengthen the social enterprise sector as means to empower communities and increase participation, through our Social Enterprise Strategy 2016 – 26.

Priority Two: Promote Positive Attitudes and Tackle Stigma

Our plan will aim to:

  • facilitate the building of positive and healthy relationships,
  • reduce the stigma that can be associated with social isolation and loneliness,
  • encourage kindness,
  • improve mental wellbeing, and
  • promote intergenerational dialogue.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of social isolation and loneliness has had greater visibility – including through the Scottish Government's Clear Your Head campaign – and entered the public conversation as never before. Stakeholder feedback suggests that stigma may have already begun to reduce as a result. However, we recognise that it can still be difficult to admit to feeling lonely. Trying to reduce this stigma, and to address the mental health impacts of loneliness, remains an important part of the plan.

In Scottish Government research (August 2020) into the impact of COVID-19 on communities, respondent organisations noted "loneliness and isolation, for example, is the new 'norm'" and

"This pandemic has shone a light on loneliness and isolation like never before, with huge numbers of people experiencing it to a greater or lesser degree, we need to capture this awareness…"[28]

We aim to build on this new openness and willingness to talk about loneliness and isolation, to better understand the problem and do more to tackle it.


To facilitate the building of positive and healthy relationships, reduce stigma, encourage kindness, improve mental wellbeing and promote intergenerational dialogue, we will:

Over the next 12 months

2.1 Take forward the actions arising from the Personal and Social Education (PSE) review, and work on developing a PSE toolkit, led by the PSE Delivery and Implementation Group, and supported by the PSE Lead Officer Network. Personal and Social Education aims to support our pupils to develop the important life skills and experiences they need to build positive and healthy relationships.

2.2 Promote the opportunities of 2023's Month of Community, Loneliness Awareness Week, Global Intergenerational Week, and other similar events or milestones throughout the year, which can encourage people to get involved in building connections in their communities.

Over the medium term

2.3 Help address the mental health and wellbeing aspects of social isolation and loneliness in local communities, by investing £36 million over two years (2021-23) through our Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund. The Fund aims to promote wellbeing, mitigate and protect against the impact of distress and help tackle the impacts of social isolation, loneliness and mental health inequalities on adults.

We will use monitoring and evaluation data from the Fund to gain a better understanding of what works in tackling social isolation and loneliness within communities.

2.4 In light of learning from the pandemic, signpost and encourage partners to consider training and accessing support on how to develop and recognise intergenerational best practice, to ensure increased opportunities for good quality interactions between generations.. Intergenerational dialogue has a vital role in ensuring that different generations talk to each other in order to tackle the shared challenges of exclusion and isolation.

2.5 Continue to look for ways to embed kindness across our work and promote it as a value central to delivering for the people of Scotland.

Priority Three: Create Opportunities for People to Connect

Stakeholders have identified activities which help people to rebuild connections as being particularly important while we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our strategy identified three priority activities – befriending, volunteering, and physical activity.

Befriending can open up a range of activities and lead to increased self-esteem and self-confidence.

Volunteering is known to create a positive impact in tackling SIAL for both the volunteers and the communities they serve.

Physical activity has substantial mental as well as physical health benefits, provides opportunities for social interaction, and can help older adults to maintain mobility and self-sufficiency for longer.

We want to ensure not only that we support activity known to make a difference to social isolation and loneliness, but also support people to find out about, and access, the opportunities that are available to them.

People who are digitally excluded are disproportionately disadvantaged due to the extensive role digital connections play in our society - in terms of educational, economic, and employment opportunities, access to services, and social connectedness and wellbeing. We need to ensure that people are supported to engage via digital channels in order that they do not miss out.


To ensure that people can find out what opportunities are available to them, we will:

Over the medium term

3.1 Explore how Third Sector Interfaces, third sector organisations, volunteer-involving organisations and local government can better support connectivity and help people to know what is happening in their local area. Third sector interfaces provide a single point of access for support and advice for the third sector within local areas. There is a Third Sector Interface in each local authority area in Scotland. Third Sector Interfaces occupy an ideal point for people to link into services and find out more about what's happening in their communities.

Consider how this might be shared and developed further in order that good practice from the COVID-19 response is retained.

To support befriending, volunteering, physical activity and intergenerational practice as pathways to making new connections, opening up a range of activities, and improving health and self-confidence, we will:

Over the next 12 months

3.2 Work with partners to ensure funding is distributed to those projects and organisations who will most appropriately and effectively tackle SIAL and deliver on the priorities of our 'A Connected Scotland' strategy.

3.3 Start to implement Scotland's Volunteering Action Plan, which was launched on 15 June 2022 and aims to create a Scotland where everyone can volunteer, more often, and throughout their lives. It seeks to raise the profile of volunteering and its impact on society. The plan provides a focus on tackling inequality within volunteering, so that those who experience disadvantage or would traditionally experience barriers to volunteering can benefit from and contribute to volunteering. The Action Plan has been co‐produced with over 100 participants and is designed to provide actions over a 10‐year period as a living plan.

3.4 Continue to support Paths For All to deliver and expand their programme of Health Walks across Scotland which help people enjoy increased fitness, improved mood and increased social interactions with local people and the local area.

Over the medium term

3.5 Support Befriending Networks as a critical partner to build capacity within the sector, and share learning from the developing evidence base on befriending to highlight 'what works' to tackle social isolation and loneliness.

Over the longer term

3.6 Work with the partners to ensure that learning from the projects and organisations supported by our funding is disseminated appropriately across sectors, and to support and build capacity within smaller organisations to apply for and/or generate future funding opportunities.

3.7 Recognising the power of participation in sport and physical activity in helping people who face social isolation and loneliness, we will work with partners across sectors as part of our whole systems approach to ensure that the benefits of participation for physical, mental and social health are recognised and are embedded in both national and local policies and strategies.

Priority Four: Support an Infrastructure that Fosters Connections

If the infrastructure underpinning all our daily lives forms a barrier to connection in itself, then our good work on creating opportunities for connection will be wasted. It's essential that we consider this in how we make and operate our infrastructure – whether physical (e.g. housing, transport), digital, community and place (places to interact, culture), or health and social care (how our systems and practices support people to make connections). This priority has been identified as of particular importance by stakeholders during 2021.


To create a joined-up approach to identifying and tackling social isolation and loneliness using our care infrastructure, we will:

Over the next 12 months

4.1 Include a learning resource on social isolation and loneliness in the national toolkit on Mental Health and Wellbeing in Primary Care Services, to educate and inform primary care staff on how to identify and take steps to tackle these issues, and review use of the toolkit after six months.

4.2 Explore how the learning resource on social isolation and loneliness could be utilised on a wider basis.

Over the medium term

4.3 Implement Anne's Law (having already updated the Health & Social Care Standards), with the aim of strengthening the rights of adult care home residents to spend time with the people who are important to them, in order to support their health and wellbeing.

4.4 Work with health and social care integration authorities, via their role as Social Isolation and Loneliness Advisory Group members, to consider their role in addressing social isolation and loneliness, including how to ensure that primary care staff, allied health professionals and community link workers have access to relevant information, and how best to share good practice.

4.5 Consider how Scottish Fire & Rescue Safe and Well visits could contribute by recognising signs of potential social isolation and loneliness, and enhance referral pathways.

To ensure our transport infrastructure enables people to access opportunities to build and maintain connections, we will:

Over the next 12 months

4.6 Promote and enhance a person-centred approach to the Blue Badge parking scheme, through: a) our updated Code of Practice for local authorities, and b) exploring how the fast-track prescribed badge model may be extended in order to simplify the application process for applicants with specific diagnoses. Fairer and more consistent implementation of the Blue Badge scheme, which enables disabled people to park close to where they need to go, will support disabled people to lead independent lives and maintain connections in and around their communities.

4.7 Engage with the Mobility Access Committee Scotland (MACS) to improve our understanding of transport-related barriers to connection for disabled people, and how these might be addressed.

Over the medium term

4.8 Undertake and publish a Fair Fares Review to ensure a sustainable and integrated approach to public transport fares as we recover from the pandemic.
This Review will look at the range of discounts and concessionary schemes which are available on all modes including bus, rail and ferry. The Review will develop and assess options to create a fairer, more transparent system of fares across all modes that maintain and increase affordability for those who need it most, taking cognisance of the relative changes to the overall cost of travel. As part of the review, 'Pathfinder' pilot projects that take action on the cost and availability of public transport and that increase integration between services and modes will be developed. We will engage with stakeholders and consult publicly on a Draft Vision for Public Transport.

Over the longer term

4.9 Introduce a Community Bus Fund, supporting local transport authorities to improve local public transport in their areas. The fund will support local transport authorities to explore the full range of options set out in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, including municipal bus services.

To make better use of our digital infrastructure to support connections, and work to reduce digital exclusion as a barrier to participation, we will:

Over the longer term

4.10 Tackle the digital divide, continuing the Connecting Scotland programme providing, where possible, devices, connectivity, training and support, to get more households online, with a focus on groups most affected by social isolation and loneliness.

To focus on place-making and community infrastructure to foster connections within communities, we will:

Over the medium term

4.11 Continue to support Forward: Scotland's Public Library Strategy 2021-2025, which sets out the ambitions for Scotland's public libraries. The strategy recognises the way that public libraries quickly responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in developing an enhanced digital offer to support communities and hard-to-reach groups during lockdown. The strategy sets out a plan for the sector's recovery, including strengthening the connections made between library services during lockdown to tackles issues such as social isolation and loneliness. We will continue to work with the sector to consider how to build on what public libraries already offer in their role as community hubs.

4.12 Implement our Adult Learning Strategy 2022-2027. This will remove barriers to learning and increase the availability of community-based learning opportunities. As part of its strategic action plan, work will be undertaken to analyse the contribution Community Learning and Development makes to reducing social isolation and loneliness.

Over the longer term

4.13 Invest in Changing Places Toilets over this parliamentary term in order to increase the number of Changing Places Toilets across the country and support mobile changing places to allow people easier access to events and outdoor venues around the country. These facilities will make a real difference to disabled people and their families and we want to encourage the development and provision of more changing places toilets across Scotland.

4.14 Work towards our ambitions for 20 minute neighbourhoods through the Place Based Investment Programme, supported by engagement tools such as the Place Standard.

'20 minute neighbourhoods' are a model for communities that envisage people being able to meet the majority of their daily needs within a reasonable distance of their home, using active and sustainable transport, preferably by walking, wheeling or cycling – whether these relate to shopping, leisure, education, or even ideally work. Creation of networks of 20 minute neighbourhoods will reduce the need to travel unsustainably, improve access to services and build local circular economies.

We will also aim to better capture people's aspirations and needs for the places where they live through a new generation of local development plans and Local Place Plans.

4.15 Deliver on A Culture Strategy for Scotland's aim of empowering through culture, which recognises the importance of community and highlights that participation in community-led cultural activities can reduce social isolation and improve health and wellbeing.

For example, our Culture Strategy programmes – such as the Culture Collective, and Creative Communities – support and empower communities to develop their cultural activity at a grassroots level. Many of the projects funded under these programmes aimed to reduce social isolation and loneliness, including An Lanntair's Creative Connections project which contributed to a reduction in social isolation by delivering workshops in Gaelic, strengthening the connections between older residents and the place where they live.

To minimise barriers to connection in our housing infrastructure, we will:

Over the longer term

4.16 Take action to increase the supply of accessible and adapted homes, including wheelchair accessible housing, through our Housing to 2040 route map.



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