The government of the United Kingdom has decided to tackle the issue of solitude
This January, Prime Minister Theresa May created the position of Minister of Loneliness as a part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Since its announcement, the position has been mocked and seen as ridiculous, particularly by media outlets from the United States. For instance, The New Yorker gives an example of America’s reaction: “Stephen Colbert, on his TV show, suggested that ‘Minister for Loneliness’ sounded like ‘a Victorian euphemism for ‘gigolo.’ ‘ (Actually, the Victorian euphemism for gigolo was ‘Casanova,’ but points for effort.) Colbert went on to riff upon the comedic implications of the appointment. ‘This is so British,’ he said. ‘They’ve defined the most ineffable human problem and come up with the most cold, bureaucratic solution’.”
However, when looking at data this issue does not seem like something to laugh about. To quote The Washington Post, the British government decided to appoint the minister because of “studies revealing that roughly 10 percent of all Brits regularly feel isolated”. This has gone from a mental health issue to a public danger, as proves the murder of Jo Cox in 2016. The Washington Post recalls:
The country’s rise to the forefront of combating isolation also came in response to the murder of lawmaker Jo Cox in 2016. Cox was killed by a man with connections to the far-right and the country’s political elite vowed to carry on her fight. Loneliness was Cox’s primary policy issue, and she galvanized Westminster’s approach to the problem by forming a commission to search for new approaches during her one year in Parliament.
In her mid-January statement, May said: “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life”.
Crouch has been appointed as the first ever Minister of Loneliness. She is a Conservative politician who has been a Parliament Member since 2010. The 42 year old was appointed Minister of Sport and Civil Society since last June, so, to quote The New Yorker: “loneliness is effectively already within Crouch’s portfolio, and the official announcement of her appointment included a summary of initiatives underway to combat social isolation, including a ‘pocket parks’ program to transform unused outdoor areas into green spaces where lonely adults can volunteer or simply congregate”.
Her new role seems to be to encourage people to leave their homes and get involved in their communities, a job that seems easy until one remembers we live in the digital era. Today, as we all know, it is perfectly possible to work and socialize from your own home, through a device connected to the Internet. People do not need to leave their houses to purchase groceries anymore, because there is an app for that.
Experts have described humans as “pack animals” or “social animals” before, implying that we need face to face interaction to survive. It has even been claimed that there is a high correlation between screen time and depression. This seems to be a social and cultural problem that governments all over the world are being forced to face. The British are the first to take any official steps towards solving it -- will having a government official dedicated to fighting loneliness work?
Latin American Post | Laura Rocha Rueda