According to the Office for National Statistics, 6 per cent of adults in England feel ‘always’ or ‘often’ lonely. Sadly, some estimates put the number of people who feel lonely even higher – with loneliness said to affect one in five adults.
Always or often feeling lonely is harming too many people’s health and wellbeing – it can be as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Loneliness also creates additional cost pressures on social care and other local services, with many patients attending GP surgeries in need of a friendly chat, rather than clinical services.
Councils are working hard to stop people feeling ignored and invisible. But a lack of good-quality, up-to-date and easily accessible information about local services and support all too often prevents lonely people, and those helping them, from finding the accurate and timely advice they so desperately need.
The LGA and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have joined forces to tackle loneliness as part of a national £150,000 pilot project to ‘standardise’ how councils and local partners collect and publish information about local services. Together, we have launched an open data pilot that will run until March 2020 across Hull City Council, Blackburn with Darwen Council and Elmbridge District Council.
Councils already publish data about their services and support for residents. The open-data pilot aims to kick-start a step-change in how people access services and support from councils and local partners, making it easier for people to get the help and advice they need and to drive efficiencies and savings.
As part of the LGA’s sector-led improvement offer, we have created a ‘standardised’ way for local authorities and their partners – including voluntary organisations, community groups and health services – to work together to collect data that helps both residents and the sector to access information.
Bristol City Council and North Yorkshire County Council are already collecting local services data using this LGA standard. South Gloucestershire Council, working with Bristol, is also looking to publish services data to the LGA standard.
Publishing information about services in a standard way could have a far-reaching impact that extends beyond loneliness – from supporting ex-homeless households to settle into their communities, to finding local activities and services, and to publishing a public toilet map across the country.
Working in association with local health, voluntary and community schemes, each area will explore how best to capture and share information about local activities and support in an efficient and reliable way. The success of the pilots will be taken forward to encourage wider take-up.
Councils and local partners provide a wide range of services for the people and places they serve. Making their availability widely known, keeping information up-to-date and matching services to need and eligibility remains our biggest challenge. We also need the certainty of sustainable funding of local facilities and activities if these pilots are to be a success.
Talking about data isn’t always sexy, but standardising data and making it accessible has the potential to transform the way we deliver services.
Loneliness affects millions of people across the country, and the open data pilots are a real testament to councils that are ambitious for their local communities and committed to supporting local areas to find solutions to their problems.