'Major public health issue'

HARD-UP residents might be forced to choose “between loneliness and friendship” because of the cost of living crisis, a report has warned.

A Rotherham public health paper says the sharp rise in energy prices has already begun to prevent people from socialising.

There is a fear that this will compound the changes made to lifestyles during pandemic lockdowns — with many still yet to return to “normal”.

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The Rotherham Loneliness Action Plan 2023-2025 says: “Some people are still afraid to go out into social situations such as the pub, cinema, etc.

“Another fear is the cost-of-living crisis and the rise of energy prices as this is already beginning to prevent people from socialising with friends and family as they may have to choose between loneliness and friendship.”

Office for National Statistics figures from the pandemic showed that 7.6 per cent of Rotherham residents were lonely “often or always,” with 43 per cent admitting to feeling that way within the previous seven days.

The loneliness action plan says: “The way people lead their lives in society is changing, for example, the nature of jobs has changed with developments in technology which means more solitary working.

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“Many public services are moving towards a digital offer which means less human interaction.

“Whilst this can bring many positives, it has led to changes in how we now live, work, and interact.

“Loneliness is not a new issue, but it is being recognised as a major public health issue.

“Research has shown that loneliness is as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

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“Loneliness has been linked to numerous health issues like coronary heart disease, stroke, depression, cognitive decline, and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.”

Rotherham Council and health partners have said they will work to raise awareness of the importance of real-life social connections.

One focus may be on recruiting volunteer “befrienders” to provide peer support. The action plan goes before Rotherham’s Health and Wellbeing Board today.