Rural Loneliness raised in Parliament

The Chair of the APPG for Rural Services, Derek Thomas MP, sponsored a Westminster Hall Debate on 5th December focusing on loneliness and isolation in elderly and vulnerable people.

A number of issues were raised which highlight the challenges for rural communities in combatting loneliness for example the lack of transport options and the move to digital services which can make it more difficult for those with poor broadband services to access services and engage with others.

Lilian Greenwood MP summed up the transport issues with the following:

“Members said that access to public transport is particularly important for the elderly and those with disabilities. There has been a marked decline in local bus services, particularly in rural areas, and again, a free bus pass is no help if there is no service to use it on.”

Members of Parliament also discussed the important role that Post Offices play in rural communities providing a sense of community, and a role in helping residents to access services.  Concerns were raised over the DVLA contract to deliver services from Post Offices which is due to end in 2024.

The debate also mentioned not only isolation that can impact older people in rural areas but also younger people who are isolated from friends and unable to travel due to poor transport links.

Highlighting a concern with the ‘default by digital approach to services, Derek Thomas said:

“As we race towards a potentially digital-only platform, it is our job, and the Government’s job, to pause and ask who will miss out or be left behind, and to ensure that that does not happen. As I have said, my main concern is those whose loneliness and isolation can be completely avoided if we get this right. Although change is welcome, we must be sensitive, take people with us, and accommodate those who cannot jump on in the same way that perhaps we can.”

In response to the debate, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Stuart Andrew MP said:

“Loneliness does not discriminate. The Government are committed to ensuring that everyone can benefit from the power of meaningful connection, particularly the most vulnerable members of our society. Loneliness is a complex issue that we can only address in partnership and across sectors.”

Chief Executive of the RSN Kerry Booth said,

“It’s great to see MPs debating issues around loneliness and social isolation and we must remember that in rural communities, this can affect both young and old.  We know of the risks to both mental and physical health that isolation can bring, and we are keen to see the Government tackle some of the causes of isolation that particularly affect rural communities including the lack of public transport and the withdrawal of services from communities.”


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