Loneliness Webinar 2: Targeting Social Prescribing Services for the (Un)Usual Suspects

Last year, the London Plus Social Prescribing Network hosted a webinar alongside the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID). It focused on tackling loneliness in older people using social prescribing, ‘Reducing Loneliness for Over 50s through Social Prescribing‘. This webinar, in partnership with Neighbourly Lab, highlighted the prevalence of loneliness in older people, as well as society generally.

With the need for all primary care networks to focus on proactive social prescribing as part of their offer to communities, this follow-up webinar ‘Lonely in London: Targeting Social Prescribing Services for the (Un)Usual Suspects’, was held in collaboration with Transformation Partners in Health and Care. The aim was to support social prescribing link workers to think about how to target their resources more effectively when thinking about the topic.

Robin Hewings from the Campaign to End Loneliness presented his work with Neighbourly Lab in greater detail. Here, you can find a summary of this presentation and a link to the presentation recording.

What Exactly is Loneliness?

The government has taken an interest in this issue in recent years with the appointment of an official ‘loneliness minister’. This signals a growing recognition that loneliness is a genuine issue which requires considerable attention. Around 700,000 Londoners experience severe loneliness – but, what exactly is it?

We can break loneliness down into three categories:

  1. Social: The absence of social connection, found most commonly in younger people
  2. Emotional: The absence or loss of meaningful relationships, found in those who have experienced loss
  3. Existential: A feeling of inherent separateness from others, experienced by some with terminal illnesses, among others

Within any of the above categories, experiences of loneliness often result in a downward spiral. This further impacts on an individual’s physical health, and in severe cases, when coupled with social isolation and living alone, even compares to someone who smokes 15 cigarettes a day. It is interesting to note that loneliness is different from social isolation, which is about the number of connections that people feel they have.

Nevertheless, loneliness is linked to many health issues, including depression, stroke, diabetes, and dementia. It also causes people to be less likely to pursue healthy behaviours. Social prescribing link workers are therefore ideally placed to support people who have these issues.

Why are People Lonely in London?

There are many causes for loneliness. One example is the lack of local services. Investment in community space has fallen by the wayside in recent years, meaning that people experiencing loneliness have fewer ways to reach other local people. To find out the other causes, please have a look at the presentation slides and accompanying recording below for more information.

The research found that causes for loneliness in London are due to five factors:

  1. Acute poverty
  2. Being single / living alone
  3. Being deaf or disabled
  4. Going through change or being new in London
  5. Feeling different or experiencing prejudice

If multiple factors are present for an individual, the severity of loneliness will be higher.

Social Prescribing

Robin believes that “Social prescribing is one of the most tangible things you can do about [loneliness].” Further to this, in an official government report titled ‘A Connected Society: A Strategy for Tackling Loneliness’, social prescribing was considered the single most important commitment to tackling loneliness.

Loneliness Promising Approaches Framework

The above Promising Approaches Framework graphic outlines what needs to be in place for reaching and effectively helping people who are lonely. The presentation recording and slides give you a further breakdown.

Social prescribing has a part to play throughout this framework, especially in the Connector Services section. Social prescribing is excellent at reaching, understanding, and supporting people because it gives dedicated, one-on-one time to individuals to help them discover the best fit for them. Loneliness, unlike other health concerns, is a deeply personal experience, and a solution that works for one person may not work for another. The kind of focused support that social prescribing offers is the best approach for finding out the most effective way to help someone.

As a link worker, it is important to remain aware of the five factors of loneliness. Using this framework can help to target social prescribing services proactively by giving an idea of who is affected. This ensures that the limited resources make as much difference as possible to our communities.

Presentation Resources

If you would like to learn more about this topic, have a look at the following resources:

London Plus — Campaign to End Loneliness [Presentation Slides]

Campaign to End Loneliness Presentation [Presentation recording]

Further Resources

  • This annual report from the Government addresses the current measures on tackling loneliness. It references social prescribing in relation to carers, the justice system, and job centres. It also discusses the role it can play in tackling isolation and supporting people to connect to their communities.
  • If you are based in England, you can join the Tackling Loneliness Hub and connect with others working on loneliness.