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Loneliness didn’t start in 2010 - but Tory austerity has had impact, minister tells ITV News

The world's first loneliness minister has admitted the government's austerity policies have had a direct impact on British people at risk of isolation.

Tracey Crouch told ITV News she will ensure all future reforms and cuts are scrutinised to see if they make people more or less lonely.

As she unveiled the government's first strategy to tackle the issue, the minister reaffirmed her determination to build on the legacy of the late Labour MP Jo Cox in treating loneliness as a major public health concern.

But critics argue local cuts to libraries, community centres and bus services have directly contributed to the epidemic, which is estimated to affect nine million people - young and old - across the UK.

An ITV News investigation last month revealed 41% of adult day centres - considered a lifeline to the elderly and vulnerable - had closed since the Conservatives came to power more than eight years ago.

Pressed on the link between the age of austerity and loneliness, the minister said: "Loneliness didn't start in 2010. This is an issue that has been around in society for a very long time.

"The truth is that there has been significant challenges to public funding and efficiency savings which have impacted on services which do provide that connection for people.

"But this is not about looking backward - it's about making sure we go forward."

Alongside the new 'loneliness impact test', the package of measures includes:

  • encouraging GPs to send lonely patients to dance and cookery classes
  • sending postman to check on isolated people during their rounds
  • £1.8 million in funding to transform unused public areas into community spaces such as gardens and cafes

Local authorities welcomed the launch of the strategy but urged the government to reverse cuts and ensure they had sufficient funds - and more than the promised £1.8 million - to provide the services.

“To maximise the cost effectiveness of loneliness initiatives and improve health and wellbeing, we urge government to reverse reductions to councils’ public health budgets and plug the funding gap facing adult social care which is set to exceed more than £3.5 billion by 2025," Ian Hudspeth, from the Local Government Association, said.