According to the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission, nine million UK adults ‘are often or always lonely’, and ‘loneliness is as harmful to health as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day’. It proposes a government-led national strategy to combat loneliness, built on the insight, expertise and capacity of the NHS, voluntary and community sector and business, with a lead minister to ‘drive action on loneliness across government’ (Telegraph, December 15, 2017).
The report is well-intended – typical of the late Jo Cox, a caring MP – but the implication is that people are lonely because they have no friends. Missing from much of the discussion is what has become the f-word: family.
Friends come and go but families are always with us – or should be. Much loneliness is caused by family break-up or the failure to form families, something that cannot be fixed in old age. Young people should be encouraged to have children while they still can, but it is not the job of Big Government to pay for people to befriend the lonely. It can, however, discourage physically and psychologically damaging promiscuity, thus encouraging family formation; it can support families through taxation. Families are the foundation of society, but over the years governments have treated family as a private hobby, and society as composed of discrete individuals. Instead of a building a house, we are left with a pile of assorted bricks, each one a potential ‘problem’ to the state.
A National Befriending Service would make a lonely person feel worse, because true friendship is freely chosen. Instead they should be encouraged to make friends, for loneliness is the only epidemic that isn’t catching.