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Minister for Loneliness in United Kingdom


Alfrescian (Inf- Comp)
How the World's First Loneliness Minister Will Tackle 'the Sad Reality of Modern Life'
April 25, 2018

Tracey Crouch knows what it’s like to feel frighteningly alone. After giving birth to her first child, Freddie, in 2016, the British lawmaker says that despite having a “network of friends, family and a wonderful partner,” she began feeling cut off from the world. It wasn’t a new sensation; Crouch says she also suffered from depression six years earlier, when she first became a member of parliament. It felt like she was “in a very dark place, a very lonely place” she recalls.

Crouch’s experiences may inform her new role as the country’s first Minister for Loneliness, a role created by Prime Minister Theresa May in January. “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life,” May saidwhen announcing the new position. According to a report last year from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, more than 9 million people in Britain—around 14 percent of the population—often or always feel lonely. That costs U.K. employers up to $3.5 billion annually, according to consumer co-operative CO-OP.

Crouch, 42, might be the world’s first minister tasked with addressing this problem, but countries around the world are increasingly examining loneliness—typically defined as the feeling of lacking or losing companionship—as a public health concern. In Japan, lonely deaths among the elderly have a name, Kodokushi. A 2010 survey suggested more than a third of American citizens over the age of 45 feel lonely. Last year, former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called loneliness a “growing health epidemic” in a Harvard Business Review essay, citing a study that said social isolation is “associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

Speaking to TIME in her Westminster office, littered with rugby balls, cricket bats and a Union Jack flag hung on one wall, Crouch says that since her appointment, she has had meetings with lawmakers from Canada and Sweden who are “looking at us and at how we can perhaps take a lead in helping them tackle isolation.”

May was prompted to create Crouch’s role as part of the legacy of Jo Cox, a lawmaker from the center-left Labour Party who was killed in 2016 by a right-wing extremist during the heat of Britain’s E.U. referendum campaign. Cox became a spirited advocate for helping the lonely as she, like more than half of British parents, felt isolated after the birth of her first child. She set-up a commission—renamed the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness after her death— to tackle loneliness after witnessing its effects among her constituents in the north of England.

Risk factors for loneliness include “family breakdown, a divorce” or “perhaps the safety net wasn’t there to stop that descent,” Crouch tells TIME. Like other developed countries, the U.K. has largely focused on the elderly when addressing issues of loneliness, but the Jo Cox Commission highlighted how much social isolation cuts across all levels of society. Data shows that in Britain and the U.S., poor, unemployed, disabled and migrant populations tend to suffer most from loneliness and isolation—and typically struggle to access adequate support.

Young people aren’t immune either. The U.K.’s Office for National Statistics(ONS) found that 16 to 24 year-olds reported feeling more lonely than pensioners between the ages of 65 to 74. Technology, like the internet, is seen as a source of isolation for young people, “but at the same time, it can be a solution for the older generation, keeping them connected with family” she says.

Alongside all this is Britain’s exit from the European Union, following a referendum in which 75% of 18 to 24 year olds voted overwhelmingly to remain in the bloc, compared to 62% of over 65-year-olds voting to leave. Does Crouch think this generational cleavage has created a new front for social isolation?

“This [role] has got nothing to do with Brexit” says Crouch, one of a handful of lawmakers to shy from revealing how they voted in the referendum. She concedes that “contempt” between the generations could be “another area of community disconnect… but, I think in terms of loneliness, this is something that’s been happening over many years and it’s just building up.”

The erosion of the nuclear family and a sense of disconnectedness in the workplace are some of the reasons why loneliness has bloomed in recent years, says David McDaid, an Associate Professorial Research Fellow on mental health at the London School of Economics. There are more single-person households in the E.U. than any other household type, which has coincided with “more awareness of loneliness as a issue” he says. Loneliness can also affect those surrounded by a lot of people, for example those in workplaces “where you could be feeling isolated from colleagues or trapped due to your desk-job.”

Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sport and Civil Society, was also appointed the ministerial lead for loneliness in January 2018.

Crouch’s appointment looks to some like a public-relations move rather than a true attempt to tackle loneliness. This is her fourth ministerial brief; she is already the Minister of Sports, Minister of Civil Society and Minister of Gambling, and would not be drawn on how many days she would be able to commit to her new role. “It’s difficult to say because there’s no two days that are the same in politics anyway.”

Her Conservative Party has also been blamed for exacerbating loneliness by gutting social services, which provided struggling mothers relief and kept communities together. Since the Conservatives gained power in 2010, hundreds of public libraries and Sure Start Centers, which are designed to help mothers and children, have been closed down. “The loss of community space, like youth centers, has had an massive impact on what would be a cure for loneliness,” says Naomi Eisenstadt, a public policy expert at the University of Oxford who was the first director of Sure Start. Crouch’s position was created with the best intentions but the Conservative government doesn’t “understand” what is needed, Eisenstadt tells TIME. “How do you fix loneliness without addressing the basic infrastructure issues that would reduce it?”

Crouch says she will prove her critics wrong simply by reducing the statistics. That could still prove tricky: Some loneliness metrics have been criticized for creating contradictory results, focusing primarily on the elderly, and not being able to capture how the sense of loneliness can evolve in a person over time. In Britain, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is now devising a method to measure loneliness among the general population, while Crouch is designing a seed fund worth “tens of millions” for “innovative” anti-loneliness programs and has drawn together a team of 12 civil servants across various government bodies who are looking at community-led initiatives in Britain and abroad. “We’re at a real critical point now where we can really use all the levers that we have in government to try and connect people together” she says.

Experts like McDaid believe the best ways to tackle loneliness “[is] not provided by central government” but through “informal or formal community activities” he says. This includes Shared Lives, a British home-sharing scheme matching pensioners struggling with loneliness with young people needing somewhere to live, and Men’s Shed, which has opened more than 400 communal sheds to connect retired or unemployed men through activities like woodworking and repairing electronics. There are also refugee befriending services, like HostNation, that pairs refugees with volunteers in their neighborhood.

Intergenerational care homes are another interesting approach, Crouch says. The concept first originated in Japan, where a care home and nursery were combined in the 1970s in Tokyo. The idea has spread to Australia, Singapore, the U.S. and the first one of its type in the U.K. opened its doors in south London last year. Dutch dementia-friendly villages, meanwhile, have apparently led to residents becoming more active and needing less medication. “We can also learn from some parts of America, who have specific communities that are established for older people” Crouch says of Florida’s retirement villages, which are thought to reduce the effects of loneliness.

She aims to publish “some early bones of a strategy” in early fall. But loneliness, with a multitude of causes and effects, requires equally broad solutions. It could be a while before programs are set in motion and results are seen. “I could be the minister for happiness, because that’s exactly what I’m trying to achieve” she says of the task ahead. Some brisk exercise and getting out with the stroller, she says, was the fix she needed when she was low. Helping an entire nation will be more complicated.


Alfrescian (Inf- Comp)
Volunteers who ensure no one dies alone
1 of 2

Mr Tay Cheng Tian, 54, checked into Assisi Hospice on Sept 14, 2017, after doctors told him that he had terminal cancer and only had weeks to live. He spent his last days with a bunch of volunteers who kept vigil by his deathbed round-the-clock.

DEC 10, 2017, 5:00 AM SGT

Janice Tai
Social Affairs Correspondent

Mr Tay Cheng Tian, 54, died in a hospice on Nov 4. None of his family members was by his bedside when he took his last breath, but he did not die alone.

In the last few weeks of his life, a bunch of strangers befriended him and committed to spending time with him till the end.

They fulfilled his last wishes and did things such as wheeling him downstairs for smoke breaks.

When Mr Tay started deteriorating rapidly from oesophageal cancer, the volunteers took turns to sit vigil round-the-clock by his bed.

For about two days, they held his hands, whispered to him or played his favourite songs to let him know that someone was there with him.

One saw him take his last breath at 8.30am that Saturday.

"It was a privilege to be with him, knowing that he was comfortable enough with my presence to go at that moment," said Ms Angela Sho, 43, a volunteer with Assisi Hospice's No One Dies Alone (Noda) programme.

It is part of a small but growing movement to support dying people who have few or no family members or friends to accompany them in their final hours. Demand for the service is likely to grow as the number of elderly folk who live alone in Singapore surges.

The General Household Survey, released last year, shows the number of households comprising only residents aged 65 or older stood at 82,600. About half, or 41,200, are made up of residents who live alone. By 2030, the Government estimates the number of seniors who live alone will hit 83,000.

"Given the increasing trends of one-person and two-person households with the head of households over 65 years old, we foresee the number of persons who die alone may increase," said Ms Chee Wai Yee, chairman of the grief and bereavement work group at the Singapore Hospice Council.

Mr Tay was admitted to Assisi Hospice in September. The former odd-job worker was single and had two siblings. He was estranged from his brother but his sister visited him once a week.

"In home hospice care, as long as there are no reliable caregivers, our patients would not normally pass on alone at home.

"We would normally transfer them to a medical facility where the patient can be cared for," said a spokesman for HCA Hospice Care, the largest provider of home hospice care in Singapore. But doctors and nurses are often unable to be there for patients at the moment of death.

The first Noda programme was started in the United States by a nurse, Ms Sandra Clarke, at the Sacred Heart Medical Centre in Eugene, Oregon, in 2001. A dying patient had asked her during her ward rounds: "Will you stay with me?"

She said she would, after checking on the other patients. When she returned after checking on six other patients, she found him dead.

Overcome with guilt and frustration, Ms Clarke started Noda, with hospital employees volunteering their time. It is now a national movement in the US and in countries such as Japan.

Assisi began its Noda programme for its hospice patients in 2014, with volunteers serving four patients. Its team of 40 volunteers has since kept vigil for 41 patients. Dover Park Hospice started its programme earlier, in 2013, but has a smaller team of 12 volunteers who keep vigil about five times a year.

Volunteers need a certain level of emotional maturity and training. They also need to be highly committed as they are usually activated at short notice.

Ms Samantha Lim, 37, a teacher who did a three-hour vigil with Mr Tay the day before he died, said: "After he passed away, we all went down to the carpark and walked him to the van.

"There was peace. He was not alone and that thought drives me to do this volunteer work because I know there are many seniors out there who live alone."

Why is the Noda programme important?

Associate Professor James Low, council member at the Singapore Hospice Council and a senior consultant at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said: "To die alone... there is a sense that their death didn't matter to anyone."

Patients near death can feel lonely even if they are in a hospital or hospice, he noted, adding: "This can happen in the busyness of the ward where so many others are 'crying out' for attention and help."

In Mr Tay's case, he preferred to die in the hospice rather than at home. He told The Sunday Times: "Here, I have the company of nurses and volunteers, who have so much love and compassion. That is something money can't buy."


Alfrescian (Inf- Comp)
Dying Solo

Roshni Mahtani
Last week, my Junior College home tutor, Miss Evelyn Nathan, passed away. The news of her death came as a shock to all of us. Miss Nathan, who was single and lived by herself, was found dead in her Ang Mo Kio flat, by her brother. The catch 69? He found her only three days later!

Dying alone at home an uprising trend?

Last week, my Junior College home tutor, Miss Evelyn Nathan, passed away. The news of her death came as a shock to all of us. Miss Nathan, who was single and lived by herself, was found dead in her Ang Mo Kio flat, by her brother. The catch 69? He found her only three days later!

With all the gory details surrounding her demise unraveling online it is no surprise that Netizens, her former students from Catholic Junior College, Innova Junior College and friends are teeming with questions.

Why did a seemingly fit, healthy teacher, have a heart attack? Why was her body only found three days later? Why didn’t her family realize she was missing? Why didn’t her neighbors detect something amiss and why did her school not call her next of kin when she missed work?

An Inspiring teacher

“Miss Nathan was an inspiring teacher – she made it a point to have a personal connection with each of her students. Now that I am a teacher, I too follow her style of being more than a teacher to my students. I try to be their friend – to understand their problems and their needs,” shared Punithan M, 28 a teacher and former student of Miss Nathan.

Echoing Punithan, Wafa Marican, also a teacher, shared, “Miss Nathan has always gone above and beyond her call of duty as a teacher. She inspired us and connected with us not only in the realm of the classroom but as a mentor and friend, “

Lonely at the Top

While Miss Nathan’s case is definitely sad, especially for us, her former students – it does bring to light a problem that we are facing here in Singapore. According to a 2009 Singstat household survey, more than 10 percent of all households in Singapore are single households. With more and more Singaporeans living by themselves, how do we ensure that safety is not compromised?

“Staying solo is an upward trend and it is a phenomenon that is here to stay. It is impossible to expect the elderly to stay with someone, but it is crucial that they have a support system. In this case, the family should have realised something was amiss way before three days. The fact that they took so long to find her body is shocking, to say the very least.” laments Punithan.

Adding on, Wafa says, “More should be done. It is essential to have an active network of friends and family who are aware of what we are doing. In schools there should be a system where if a teacher does not turn up for work and is noncommunicable, her next of kin should be called.


Alfrescian (Inf- Comp)
Dying alone does not always mean the deceased had a sad, lonely life

The man found dead in a Marine Parade flat might have been alone in his final moments, his nephew said, but he led a "meaningful" life that he wouldn't have lived any other way.

By Aqil Haziq Mahmud@AqilHaziqCNA
18 Jan 2018 06:30AM (Updated: 03 Feb 2018 04:22AM)

SINGAPORE: The 65-year-old man whose decomposed body was found in a Marine Parade flat last week was a fiercely independent person who chose to live alone, and the fact that he lay undiscovered for a number of days does not indicate he lived a sad, lonely life.

That was the view of the man's nephew, who decided to speak out after many online comments suggesting that his uncle, Gerald Fu, must have lived in unhappy isolation.

His nephew Glen, who asked to only be identified by his first name, told Channel NewsAsia that his uncle decided to live alone with intermittent contact with his family after his mother died.

“As an outsider or a family member, you need to know where to draw the line and not to cross that line,” the self-employed 46-year-old said.

When Channel NewsAsia first reported the discovery on Jan 10, the condolences on social media came thick and fast. But some commenters also jumped to conclusions.

“Singapore has come to this stage where old people (are) left alone to survive by themselves,” wrote one person. Another said: “Many old people live alone as they have no family or family members are too busy to bother.”

Such statements have angered Glen, who felt the need to clear the air amid some “pretty nasty things” said online.

“People can make up a lot of things,” he said. “It’s easy to sit there and just type things without actually understanding what happened. And for someone who had led a very fantastic and beautiful life, I felt that it was only right of me to just say a few words.”

According to Glen, his uncle might have wanted a change in lifestyle after flying with Singapore Airlines, where he worked as an in-flight supervisor, for more than 30 years.

“He’d come into contact with many people, so maybe he just wanted some peace to himself,” he suggested. “I guess you can just be tired of mixing around.”

Gerald was also a “headstrong” character who sometimes refused to go to the doctor or have dinner with friends, Glen said. But his uncle was far from reclusive.

“If you flew for 30 over years, you can’t be anti-social,” he said. “I think he reached a stage of life where you sort of quieten down and mellow.”

To that end, Gerald had many family and friends who cared for him. They would occasionally text and visit him, and he would look after their pet dogs from time to time.

“The line was always open both ways,” Glen said. “He didn’t need to be checked up on all the time. He’s always been fine, he’s always been able to do his own things.”

Furthermore, Gerald was “educated enough” to know when to look for help, Glen added.

When Gerald had a heart issue he called Glen, who brought him to the hospital where he was given a stent. After the procedure, Glen offered to take time off from work to bring him home, but he refused.

“Next thing I know, he calls me to tell me I’m home, everything is okay,” he said. “He never liked to encroach on people.”


National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said some elderly people choose to live alone to avoid the “restrictions and tensions” of living with others.

“Perhaps, they prefer the freedom of not having to adjust to other people’s habits or even put up with their idiosyncrasies,” he said. “Or they themselves have their own habits and idiosyncrasies, which make them difficult house mates.”

While some seniors might not have a choice when it comes to living alone, Dr Tan said, those who do might see it as a “preferred option”.

“This does not mean that they live in complete isolation,” he noted. “They could be living in close proximity to their children, and thereby enjoying intimacy at a short distance.”

According to the 2015 General Household Survey, 82,600 households – or 6.7 per cent of all households – comprised only residents aged 65 or older. About half of these households, or 41,200, are made up of residents who live alone. This figure is estimated to hit 83,000 by 2030.

With that, a growing community network that cares for elderly people who live alone and eases their loneliness in their twilight years has emerged.

Dr Tan added that the bottom line is not whether a senior is living alone, but whether he or she can depend on social, emotional or financial support from a network of family members, relatives, friends and neighbours.

“What really matters is social distance, rather than physical distance,” he said. “One could be emotionally close to a social network of people, even when physically far apart from the people in the network.”

Nonetheless, whenever the body of an elderly person lies undiscovered for a number of days, it generates widespread concern. Just last month, the case of a 68-year-old man who died alone in a Punggol flat saw a similar reaction online.


For Glen, his uncle was a “very, very generous” man who spent S$200 a month to feed the stray cats below his block.

In addition, Gerald was a music lover who bought handmade speakers and boasted over a thousand CDs in his collection. His Peranakan-styled home was also featured in the Home and Decor magazine a few years back.

“Some people who pass away (alone) at home, they live in a probably very sparsely furnished house,” Glen said. “But my uncle was totally different.”

However, Glen admitted that dying alone can be a “very sad” thing, regardless of whether one chose to live alone or not.

“The sad part about my uncle’s death and those that die at home alone is that there was no one there with them,” he said. “And as a relative, you feel like your hands were tied, you couldn’t do anything about it.”

Glen said Gerald texted him more than a week before he died to say that he was not feeling well. Glen wanted to take him to the doctor, but he opted to go to a traditional Chinese practitioner instead.

“I’m still trying to come to terms with that and you know, you try to bash yourself up over it,” he added. “Like why didn’t I do this, why didn’t I do that. But you finally come to realise that if he didn’t want it, you couldn’t do it.”

Glen also spoke of his joy at getting to see his uncle a couple of days before he died. Gerald was on his way back from a grocery run at Parkway Parade when Glen bumped into him.

Gerald looked good, Glen said. “I was happy because I got a chance to hug him,” he added, his voice choking. “At least I had a chance to hug him.”

Glen believes his uncle passed away suddenly because he had looked “perfectly fine” and would have called if he needed help.

“You can be sitting down and you get a sudden heart attack, you can’t move and that’s it,” he said. “You can’t predict this kind of thing. Because if you do, every day will be a headache for you.”

Nevertheless, Glen knows that his uncle would not have changed a thing about the way he had lived.

“There’s this song by Frank Sinatra – it’s called My Way,” he said, referring to one of the tracks on the numerous CDs that Gerald owned.

“My uncle did everything his way.”

Source: CNA/hz