Loneliness has a significant impact on public health and wellbeing, and has been a priority issue for Welsh Government and public services across Wales since before the Coronavirus pandemic. Addressing loneliness has relied on strategies and initiatives to increase the quality of people’s social contacts. Social distancing and shielding to slow the spread of the coronavirus and protect the most vulnerable simultaneously increases the risk of loneliness and significantly restricts the activities of many existing approaches to tackling it.
The Wales Centre for Public Policy is working to bring local public service providers, from local government and the third sector, together with academics from across the UK and beyond, to share knowledge and experience, discuss local issues and challenges, understand the impact and consider how to mitigate and prevent loneliness. Prior to the pandemic, we produced a series of blogs on loneliness in Wales and what the evidence tells us about tackling loneliness and social isolation for key groups. In response to the changed context, created by restrictions on direct social contact, we produced a briefing note on Loneliness under Lockdown, accompanied by a blog. Together, these aim to initiate a conversation about the role of technology in helping to tackle loneliness. We also produced two podcasts (links below) with experts discussing key issues related to technology and the role of good communication in tackling loneliness during the lockdown.
Building on this initial work, we have produced a report ‘Designing technology-enabled services to tackle loneliness’ which outlines key design principles for technology-enabled services to address loneliness. There are challenges associated with the use of technology to tackle loneliness, including digital exclusion that disproportionately affects groups vulnerable to loneliness, such as elderly people, those on low income and some groups living with physical and mental health conditions. However, our report concludes that where technology can be used as part of a mix of service provision, it is important to consider what that technology allows people to do in terms of providing opportunities for meaningful connection and how it is designed with and for people in different circumstances.
Other aspects of our programme of work in this area include a project exploring the role of communities in tackling loneliness. We are talking to community groups about their experience during the Coronavirus pandemic to understand the activities of their groups, the role technology has played in coordinating and supporting their activities and how good practice can be enhanced and sustained. This research is supported by data analysis on the relationship between community infrastructure and loneliness.
You can listen to our podcasts on loneliness here:
Episode 5: Tackling Loneliness and Social Isolation during Lockdown
Episode 6: Tackling loneliness in and out of lockdown – the role of good communication