Scottish Government urged to appoint minister for loneliness
MSPs have called for the appointment of a Scottish minister for loneliness and the creation of a national day in Scotland to tackle social isolation.
Conservative MSP Annie Wells said social isolation has become a "prevalent public health issue" and highlighted research showing it can increase mortality risk by 10% and is also linked to dementia, high blood pressure and depression.
She said the issue is worsening as people's lives become transient and socialising online rises, adding that 79% of adults in Scotland reported experiencing loneliness.
As well as a national day dedicated to dealing with the problem, she also urged the setting up of penpal schemes to connect pupils with older people in their communities.
She highlighted the UK Government's appointment of a minister for loneliness to carry on the legacy of murdered MP Jo Cox.
Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton urged the Scottish Government to appoint their own equivalent minster.
Speaking in a Holyrood debate, Ms Wells praised the Scottish Government's draft national strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness which was published on Tuesday, but called for a clear way to measure its impact.
She said: "Long-term cultural change is key and that's something that can be achieved through both government and individual action.
"I'm pleased that the draft strategy picks up on the need to focus on grassroots action and letting communities lead."
Social security minister Jeane Freeman, who opened the Scottish Government debate, said loneliness and social isolation are often discussed as affecting older people but can affect anyone of any age at any time.
She said the solution "lies in our communities" and highlighted Scottish Government work to support community projects through the Community Empowerment Act and the £500,000 social isolation and loneliness fund.
She added: "This draft strategy signals this government's commitment to tackling social isolation and loneliness.
"It sets out our belief that we have to do more to empower communities to lead in this area and that our role to is create the conditions for change to happen and to lead by example.
"Building a connected and cohesive Scotland is everyone's business."
Labour's Monica Lennon welcomed the strategy but raised concerns over public-sector budget cuts.
She said: "Community organisations are well-placed to tackle loneliness but they are at risk in places."