Last week saw the appointment of a new Minister for Loneliness.  Tracey Crouch will have the responsibility of overseeing how government departments take steps to reduce the loneliness experienced by over 9 million people in Britain.  In her speech at Friday’s Downing Street reception to celebrate the legacy of Jo Cox, the Prime Minister acknowledged that around “85% of young adults with disabilities say they feel lonely most days.” 

The recognition of the problem is of course welcome, and the appointment of a Minister to co-ordinate Government action to address the loneliness epidemic, a positive step.  Much of the loneliness experienced in this country has not just occurred as a result of social malaise, or disintegration of good neighbourliness.   For many, the loneliness they endure on a daily basis is a direct consequence of Government policy.  A suitable wheelchair is essential to enable many disabled people to be socially active, but all too often the NHS fails to provide people with a wheelchair that is adequate for their needs.  70% of applications to the Aspire Grants Programme come from people seeking help to find the additional £3,000 needed for a wheelchair that fully meets their needs.

Thousands of disabled people are forced to live in care homes or trapped in inaccessible housing unable to get beyond the front door, or lead a normal family life.  Independent research published by Aspire in 2015 revealed how life in inappropriate housing affects people’s psychological wellbeing.   Research participant Vicki says:

“now basically I just sit here. I can get to the back door, but that’s as far as you go.  Its pure loneliness and it’s horrible….”

Yet, despite the evidence of the shortage of accessible housing and the misery it is causing, we continue to see government inaction.   For those who no longer have the social care support they need because the government scrapped the Independent Living Fund and local authority funded support slashed, neither social nor economic activity are conceivable.

We have found that around 40% of spinal injured people feel that their care needs are not being met by relevant authorities.  Around 900 disabled people a week lose their Motability vehicle, because the reassessment from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment, has determined that they are no longer entitled to one, effectively grounding them.  

The work of the Jo Cox Foundation and Commission has gone a long way to defining the scale of the problem and initiatives such as the Great Get Together must be applauded.  But they must also be viewed in the context of systematic Government failure and the rolling back of the very support that would have enabled many disabled people to participate in such events.

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