During the festive season we have been bombarded with images of log fires, families celebrating and laughing together and presents being opened by excited children. For the growing number of elderly and single people living in the UK, though, this can be an acutely lonely and depressing time. This Christmas may have been particularly bleak for those who live on their own and who have lost their jobs in the recession.
Local churches and voluntary groups do their best to address this problem over the Christmas period. But loneliness and the breakdown of community bonds are not just a problem at Christmas. And the costs of this social ‘atomisation’ are broader than simple loneliness. Lack of support in the home, and the health and psychological costs of loneliness, are burdens not easily borne by local authorities, weighed down as they are by the bureaucracy of the assessment of needs and means.
When it comes down to it, local government cannot hope to replace the bonds of family and community which have been allowed to decay. We need to find ways to support local voluntary groups, and communities themselves, in rebuilding those networks.