‘Sad’ Britain? Minister for Loneliness to deal with realities of modern life

Sajeda Momin
Sajeda Momin - Special to Al Arabiya English
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
5 min read

The United Arab Emirates was the first country in the world to announce a Ministry for Happiness. The brainchild of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Ohoud bint Khalfan Al Roumi was appointed the first Minister of Happiness in February 2016 with the responsibility to plan programs and policy to achieve a happier society. The responsibility of the office was to “align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction”.

Nearly two year later, Britain has appointed the world’s first Minister for Loneliness, a problem that causes unhappiness. Last week Prime Minister Theresa May announced that Tracey Crouch, a junior minister for sport and civil society, will also take on the newly created portfolio of Loneliness.

May described loneliness as the “sad reality of modern life” that affects millions of people in UK. “I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved one – people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with” said May.

In a population of 65.6 million people, Britain has more than 9 million – equivalent to the population of the UAE - who say they are always or often lonely according to the British Red Cross. The charity calls it a “hidden epidemic” that can affect people of all ages at various times in life such as retirement, bereavement or separation.

A report in 2017 has said that loneliness was as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It is also a proven fact that people who have happy and stress-free lives live longer than those who are bogged down with stress or are unhappy and lonely.

The pursuit of happiness is not a new concept and in fact the United States enshrined it as an individual right in their Declaration of Independence nearly 250 years ago. Since the 1970s the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has instituted a Gross National Happiness Index, which measures happiness based on psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance.

In 2013, Venezuela created a Vice-Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness and Ecuador named a State Secretary for “buen vivir”, or good living. In 2017 India’s second largest state Madhya Pradesh appointed a Minister of Happiness in the state government. Measuring happiness has become very important these days and surveys linking happiness and the country’s overall development are becoming prevalent. The United Nations has called on member states to place more emphasis on happiness as a measurement for social and economic development. The UN also publishes a World Happiness Report which ranks 157 countries from the happiest which was judged to be Denmark to the least happy, which was Burundi in the last edition.

Britain is dealing with the same issue but from the other side. Due to better health facilities people are living longer and therefore the UK has a larger aging population than earlier. A breaking down of the family unit, work pressures on children has meant that the elderly no long live as part of extended families with children and grandchildren and hence feel very lonely. A survey showed that over 50% of the elderly and the over 75-year-olds in Britain live on their own, often going for weeks without seeing another human being.

Loneliness doesn’t affect just the elderly. It is also being perpetuated by a consumerist, individualist society with a deconstruction of the community. The technological revolution has also meant that we can all live more unconnected lives with so much being done through the computer and the internet from the comfort of your own home, without any physical interaction with other people. Human interaction is becoming unnecessary and it is demolishing real sociability and replacing it with a virtual reality which can be the cause of loneliness among the younger generations.

The late Labour Party Member of Parliament Jo Cox, who was killed by right-wing white supremacists just before the European Union referendum, had started a Commission on Loneliness before her death. “Jo Cox recognized the scale of loneliness across the country and dedicated herself to doing all she could to help those affected” said Prime Minister May, announcing that the new ministerial role would continue Cox’s legacy.

The 42-year-old Crouch said she was proud to take on the “generational challenge” and would work across political parties and pull together existing work being done on loneliness to create a framework for the future.

Top Content Trending