I strongly support for Welsh Labour's plan to develop a new national strategy to address loneliness and social isolation if our party forms the next Welsh Government.
The plan - as highlighted in this week's Welsh Labour Manifesto - would bring together public and third sector organisations to develop national and regional plans to deliver services catered to the needs of those experiencing loneliness. Wales has the highest proportion of over-65s in the UK, and the group will represent a quarter of the Welsh population, loneliness and social isolation have become increasingly serious problems both here in Wales and across the UK. Indeed, research from the Campaign to End Loneliness suggests that a significant number of people aged 65 or over feel lonely most or all of the time.
This isn't just upsetting, but damaging to public health and the wellbeing of our society as a whole. Evidence suggests that isolation can have a hugely detrimental impact on physical and mental health. For example, research from the medical profession highlights that the effect of loneliness on mortality can be even higher than that of obesity or smoking, and can increase the risk of high blood pressure. Similarly those who are socially isolated tend to suffer from lower self-esteem and disturbed sleeping habits, with isolation also contributing towards experiences of anxiety and depression.
Tackling isolation in our communities is something I'm very passionate about, and I believe that as a society we haven't always given this growing problem the full recognition and attention it warrants. I am fully supportive of Welsh Labour's plan to develop a national strategy to counter loneliness, and I would love to see Wales leading the way in addressing this worrying situation, which has the potential to become an advancing social crisis. We owe it to our loved ones and our communities to do all we can to fight social isolation.