Response 326553347

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Key questions for everyone

1. What needs to change in your community to reduce social isolation and loneliness and increase the range and quality of social connections?

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Social isolation and loneliness is a complex problem and there are many factors which influence it. Government should be engaging with local communities and faith groups and asking them what support would help them in the work they do to try to alleviate loneliness, poverty and social isolation. Local faith groups, as you will see from the other questions we have answered in this consultation, are key to tackling this issue. They have the knowledge and experience as well as the infrastructure to reach out to people. Government support, both national and local, for faith communities would be welcome, but it must be proportionate and it should not attempt to usurp the critical role played by faith communities. Ultimately, a greater love towards and a desire for the good of one's neighbour is key to what needs to change in communities. Allied to this is recognition of the importance of the common good. In our answer to question 5 we explore other reasons for social isolation, some of which may not have been considered by government. We also look at some of the reasons for hope, such as participation in Christian life, which is backed up by evidence. In our answer to question 7 we provide examples of current good practice of work in the community to tackle social isolation and loneliness; drawn from the work of the Catholic Church and her agencies, commissions and voluntary groups. This type of service in the community is precisely what we need in order to tackle social isolation and loneliness. It should be recognised and encouraged.

2. Who is key at local level in driving this change, and what do you want to see them doing more (or less) of?

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Christian denominations have been establishing and nurturing strong and positive social connections for many years. The knowledge and experience of Christian churches is a key component of the solution to tackling social isolation and loneliness. It naturally follows that the churches themselves are key to delivering change. However, this can only be done with the right support and, as already suggested, government should be engaging with these faith groups and local communities and asking them what support they might benefit from to assist the work they are already doing. This is also true for local authorities.

3. What does Government need to do nationally to better empower communities and create the conditions to allow social connections to flourish?

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Government should be engaging with local communities and faith groups and asking them what support would help them in the work they do to try to alleviate loneliness, poverty and social isolation. Local faith groups, as already stated, are key to tackling this issue. They have the knowledge and experience as well as the infrastructure to reach out to people. Government support would be welcome, but it must be proportionate and it should not attempt to usurp the critical role played by faith communities. It is perhaps just as important for government to acknowledge and recognise the incredibly important part played by Christian communities, including the Catholic Christian community, in tackling social isolation and loneliness.

Detailed questions

5. Do you agree with the evidence sources we are drawing from? Are there other evidence sources you think we should be using?

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There is fascinating research on religion and the impact it has on the incidence of suicide, which can be the tragic outcome of experiencing social isolation and loneliness. The research by Tyler Vander Weele of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2529152) found that certain groups appear to remain protected from the rising tide of despair and self-harm. Out of 89,000 participants and over a period of fourteen years the study found that ‘those who attended any religious service once a week or more were five times less likely to commit suicide.’ It also found that ‘those who identified as either Catholic or Protestant had a suicide rate about half that of U.S. women in general. Of the 6,999 Catholic women who said they attended Mass more than once a week, none committed suicide. Religious practice turned out to be more important than mere affiliation; self-identified Catholics who did not attend Mass had suicide rates comparable to those of other women who were not active worshippers.’ The research suggests that religion has a significant role to play in alleviating social isolation and loneliness. It is also worth noting recent research by Choose Life in the North East of Scotland. The suicide awareness group is aiming a new campaign at men going through a relationship break-up, after figures showed that was the main issue behind such deaths in the area last year. The BBC reported that Choose Life found men accounted for about 80% of people taking their own life in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and that failing relationships played a significant part in a majority. Choose Life Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire co-ordinator Iain Murray told BBC Scotland: "What we've discovered having looked at some data is that males in particular seem to really struggle with relationship break-ups, and in relation to suicides in the north east, that's one of the most prominent factors we've noticed. There can be little doubt that the breakdown of relationships and the breakdown of the family has contributed to social isolation and loneliness. The number of marriages in Scotland has been in general decline for decades whilst the number of divorces has been increasing. This coincides with a drop in the fertility rate. Add to this the rapid increase in abortions since the introduction of the Abortion Act in 1967 and you start to see a picture: one which illustrates a growing social antipathy towards the nuclear family which is the bedrock of society. Whilst this may not be the place for a debate on the specific subject of abortion, there can be little doubt that it has had a significant effect on the composition of the population, and its effect is something that should be explored. It may be that abortion is a contributory factor in the social isolation and loneliness many people are now experiencing. We also need to seriously consider the impact of the contraceptive mentality on society, and its relationship to abortion. Despite assurances that more contraception would lead to less abortions this has not been the case. Since the contraceptive pill and condoms became universally available we have seen an inexorable increase in so-called unwanted pregnancies, divorce and family breakdown. In his 1968 papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI predicted that the contraceptive pill, far from liberating women, would enable and empower men and reduce the value and dignity of sexuality to a mere exchange for momentary satisfaction, and not a profound act of love. Pope Paul VI notes that an ‘effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.’ Again, this may not be the appropriate forum to discuss the rights and wrongs of contraception, but its impact is part of a bigger picture which is a general malaise and ambivalence to commitment and a loving relationship which is open to the creation of new life and which is the foundation stone for the first society: the family. Pope Paul's words in 1968 are very relevant today. We need to consider the correlation between contraception/abortion/less marriages/more divorces and the subsequent breakdown of the family and its impact on social isolation and loneliness. It is patently clear that the good of persons and the proper functioning of society are closely connected with the healthy state of conjugal and family life. Without families that are strong in their communion and stable in their commitment peoples grow weak. In the family, moral values are taught starting from the very first years of life, the spiritual heritage of the religious community and the cultural legacy of the nation are transmitted. In the family one learns social responsibility and solidarity.

7. Are you aware of any good practice in a local community to build social connections that you want to tell us about?

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The Catholic Church, with hundreds of parishes and voluntary groups across Scotland, already has in place a network of relationships and social networks which contributes to the alleviation of isolation and suffering in several different ways. Each Catholic parish is, in effect, a hub for the community; providing not only a place of spiritual communion, but also a place of fraternal communion for the entire community. Her priests, deacons, religious and lay people all serve their local communities in so many different ways. The Church teaches us the importance of community, especially in safeguarding and promoting human dignity; and she believes that the common good depends on a healthy social pluralism. She is a powerful advocate for the needs of the poor and suffering through the example of Christ, teaching the faithful that one should assist one’s fellow man in his various needs, filling the human community with works of spiritual and corporal mercy such as feeding the hungry and comforting the sick. Catholics are encouraged to engage in society and to offer themselves in selfless service to others. The Church recognises the dignity of each and every human being without exception. And she teaches that: ‘Only through the mutual action of individuals and peoples sincerely concerned for the good of all men and women can a genuine universal brotherhood be attained; otherwise, the persistence of conditions of serious disparity and inequality will make us all poorer.’ This is, in effect, a call to community. Here are some of the ways the Catholic Church helps to alleviate social isolation and loneliness (list is not exhaustive): • Gathering at Sunday/weekday Mass • Coffee mornings/cafes • Funerals and support for the bereaved • Pensioner groups • Visiting the sick (including visits by Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist who distribute Holy Communion) • Soup kitchens • Legion of Mary, Glasgow and St Catharine’s Mercy Project, Edinburgh providing support to the homeless • Cardinal Winning Initiative providing support for women experiencing crisis pregnancies and abortion • Youth clubs • Mother and toddler groups • CARITAS school pupils who, in the six years to 2016, 6,500 young people had delivered an astonishing 260,000 hours of loving service to communities across the country. That is 30 years worth of good works. These awards take place each year and involved hundreds of secondary school pupils from Catholic schools across Scotland. An equivalent award, the Pope Francis award, is awarded to primary school pupils • Providing a safe space for counselling/addiction meetings e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous • Providing local support for refugees and migrants It is also worth noting that the Church is committed to the common good internationally, nationally and in local communities through the following agencies, commissions and organisations: CARITAS Internationalis Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of over 160 members who are working at the grassroots in almost every country of the world. Inspired by the Catholic faith, Caritas is the helping hand of the Church – reaching out to the poor, vulnerable and excluded, regardless of race or religion, to build a world based on justice and fraternal love. Caritas Internationalis has its headquarters in Rome – co-ordinating emergency operations, formulating development policy and advocating for a better world for everyone. All national Caritas organisations are members of their own regional Caritas networks and the international confederation. From the founding of the first Caritas in Germany in 1897, to the setting up of Caritas Internationalis in 1951, until today, Caritas has a rich history of listening respectfully to the suffering of the poor and giving them the tools to transform their own lives. The deep moral and spiritual principles of dignity, justice, solidarity and stewardship still guide Caritas today. Santa Marta Group An alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from around the world working together with civil society to eradicate human trafficking and modern slavery, and endorsed by Pope Francis. Missio Scotland This is the Pope’s official charity for overseas mission. Missio Scotland brings the hope of the Gospel where there is turmoil, poverty or uncertainty, and aid to where the Church is new, young or poor. Missio Scotland empowers local people to form and sustain communities of faith and also helps to train and nurture future leaders so that the vital work of the Church can continue to take place. Grassroots needs are identified by local Catholics, to give people the opportunity for a full, enriched life—physically and spiritually—regardless of race, stigma, religion or gender. Missio—through the Pontifical Mission Societies—operates in over 160 countries to support initiatives in 1100 dioceses on five continents. SCIAF SCIAF is the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in Scotland. Inspired by the Gospel, and guided by Catholic Social Teaching, SCIAF reaches out with love to global neighbours in need, regardless of gender, class, race or religion. SCIAF believes in giving people in need a hand up, not a hand out. SCIAF helps people provide for themselves and their families, creating hope for the future. Dignity is one of SCIAF’s core values. Dignity is the foundation for all of SCIAF’s beliefs and what it does. Dignity is inherent in all people regardless of class, colour, creed or religion and SCIAF treats everyone the same, with the utmost respect. SCIAF helps families in poor countries to live in peace, free themselves from hunger, poverty and injustice, learn new skills, and fully recover when disaster strikes. Justice and Peace The National Commission for Justice and Peace advises the Scottish Bishops’ of the Catholic Church in matters relating to social justice, international peace and human rights, and promotes action in these areas. Human rights is a fundamental element of Justice and Peace’s work. Apostleship of the Sea Serving seafarers, including those whose ships have been detained, through the Apostleship of the Sea SPRED (Special Religious Development) SPRED (Special Religious Development), a voluntary group which works within the Church to nourish accepting and inclusive communities for people with learning disabilities. Society of St Vincent de Paul The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SSVP) is an international organisation of Catholic lay people, men and women, who practice Christianity by helping those in need on a person to person basis. It is a voluntary organisation within the Church. The aim of the Society is to provide a means whereby members can practice Christianity by showing God’s love to their neighbours who are in need. SSVP members show this love, compassion and understanding by giving of themselves – their concern, their friendship, their time, their talents – to help people regardless of creed, colour, lifestyle or political belief. For example, the SSVP is committed to helping the poor and those in need in any way it can. This help can take many forms, from helping individuals and families in local communities, feeding and clothing the homeless in cities and assisting those who need help in areas of great need around the world. SSVP members respond to the needs that they see in the best way that they can. The following is background information on SSVP in Scotland and examples of the work it does: Society of St Vincent de Paul (SSVP) • Came to Scotland in 1845, an international organisation of Catholic lay people who practice Christianity by responding to needs in their communities and helping those in need on a person to person basis. • Main Scottish office in Glasgow. Managed by elected board of Trustees and admin staff. The National office supports and advises Diocesan and Conference Councils and their members. All trustees and members are volunteers. • Each SSVP Diocese has its own member elected President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary. Within each of the Dioceses SSVP has Conferences which are governed in the same manner and are run from local Catholic churches. • Aim of the society is to provide a means whereby members can practice Christianity by showing God’s love to their neighbours who are in need regardless of creed, colour, lifestyle or political belief. • Help may be in the form of counselling, moral support, relief from loneliness, or referring people to other agencies or specialist organisations. • Referral within the parish community is the trigger for SSVP. Work of SSVP: • Visits o Home visits (person to person, the building block of the work of SSVP) – lonely, general befriending, housebound, people who have suffered strokes. o Working with Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist (those who distribute Holy Communion to the sick and housebound). o All of the above not necessarily elderly. o Prison visits and work with prisoners and ex-offenders on their release from prison. Mostly through the Catholic Chaplain. • Caravan holidays o Providing a break for distressed people. For people in poverty, people who could benefit from a holiday. o Mostly families, but also some couples and some individuals. o 12 caravans across Scotland. • Special Works o Addressing a particular need, from helping individuals and families in local communities, assisting and supporting refugees and migrants, feeding and clothing the homeless in cities and assisting those who need help in areas of great need around the world. o Ozanam Centres  Women’s and men’s clothing (Briggait, Glasgow)  Food (Holy Trinity and St Barnabas Church, Paisley)  Lunch club o Ozanam Clubs  Social groups for people of all ages with disabilities and special needs (Viewpark, Carfin, Dundee, Paisley and Hamilton). o Furniture Projects  Collecting furniture in good condition to forward on to those who have sought help from their local Conference. • Special Projects o Jericho Project  Major supporter and contributor to the Jericho House Rehabilitation Centre, Greenock. o Rendu Project  SSVP members provide pastoral support to hearing impaired adults. The group also helps people to learn sign language so that they can help deaf people. o St Vincent’s Hospice Project  In Howwood, Renfrewshire, provides compassion and comfort to the terminally ill and their families at St Vincent’s Hospice. o Dementia Project (Paisley)  Giving people with dementia time out of the house, provide them with stimulation, and provide respite for the family. o Disaster Fund o Youth Development The Scottish Catholic Observer, on 31 March 2017, reported that: ‘In the financial year 15/16, in Scotland’s eight dioceses 2,000 SSVP members carried out 53,493 home visits, 12,261 hospital visits and financially assisted 6,196 families. A spokesperson for Volunteer Scotland said that while they didn’t retain statistics on volunteer numbers the SSVP’s 2000 was “a really large number” that few Scottish charities would be able to match.’ Commenting on these statistics, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Leo Cushley, said: “These figures are yet another reminder of what a great force for good the Catholic Church is within contemporary Scottish society and of the great work that the Society of St Vincent de Paul undertakes day and daily in serving Christ amongst the most needy in our communities.” Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland and Archbishop of Glasgow said: “Pope Francis often speaks about the need to go out to the peripheries to find Christ suffering in our neighbour. These men, women and young people of SSVP are putting that vision into practice every day of the year.” Jacqueline Laird, SSVP Scotland’s national office manager said: “This is the grassroots Church in action….It always strikes me that they know the local needs like no one else, because they are on the ground and uniquely able to respond to what’s needed where they are.” Jim McKendrick, National President, said in 2016, that comparable research from England suggested that the charity’s visits to lonely and isolated people is saving the Scottish Government more than £3 million a year. A Scottish Government spokesperson said that “Charities and third sector organisations like the SSVP play a welcome and vital role in supporting our communities and meeting the needs of the most vulnerable. Our programme for Government recognised the third sector as a key strategic partner in the drive to reduce poverty, tackle inequality and create a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.”

9. Using the Carnegie UK Trust’s report as a starting point, what more should we be doing to promote kindness as a route to reducing social isolation and loneliness?

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Fundamental to Christian teaching is love of God and love of neighbour. This is a call to give one’s self for the good of others. The Catholic Church teaches that one should assist one’s fellow man in his various needs. Among these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity. Kindness is what we do and the Scottish Government would do well to learn from the example of Christian communities in this particular area. Human beings are, by their nature, social beings. We need to rediscover this natural inclination to community and tear ourselves away from a growing individualism which seeks only the good of self, often at the expense of others.

10. How can we ensure that those who experience both poverty and social isolation receive the right support?

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Asking local communities and faith groups what support would help them in the work they do to try to alleviate poverty and social isolation. Engagement with local faith groups, by both central and local government, is critical to ensuring that those who experience poverty and social isolation are receiving the right support. This engagement can be a gateway for national and local government to speak to the people most affected by poverty and social isolation; those who experience it day to day. In this way government can learn about the real issues and come to a well informed decision about the correct way to tackle problems. It may be issues with benefits, relationship breakdowns, or general lack of connectivity in the area. Whatever the issues, the people most affected need to be heard.

15. How can we better equip people with the skills to establish and nurture strong and positive social connections?

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Look at the example of faith groups. Christianity has been establishing and nurturing strong and positive social connections for thousands of years.

22. How can transport services play their part in reducing social isolation and loneliness?

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The improved provision of transport to ensure people are able to access health and social care services, faith groups, religious services, community hubs and services such as libraries, and retail. This is particularly important for those in rural areas.

23. How best can we ensure that people have both access to digital technology and the ability to use it?

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There is no doubt that improved connectivity in the digital realm can bring benefits, especially for people in rural areas. Better access to digital banking and social security benefits are just two examples where people could benefit from greater investment in digital technology and connectivity. However, a note of caution: whilst digital technology has the potential to alleviate social isolation and loneliness, it can also contribute to its cause. Many people, especially the young, find themselves increasingly reliant on digital technology to access social media where they are often vulnerable to bullying, harassment and peer pressure. It is not necessarily a healthy environment for young people. So whilst it is, on the face of it, helpful in the sense that it connects people, we must be aware of its potential to make people more lonely through reliance on it as their only social connection.

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Anthony Horan

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Catholic Parliamentary Office of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland