The Ministry of Silly Walks

Two days ago the British government announced a strategy to stop people feeling lonely.  In a time when public services are being cut down like enemy soldiers in Rambo III, it seems utterly preposterous that the government now intends on spending money in an effort to identify precisely why people are feeling lonely.  It does not require twenty million pounds to realise that human contact is the cure for loneliness.

When I first read an article about the strategy for loneliness prevention I thought it was a joke.  In one article it made reference to the minister for loneliness I could not help but laugh.  It could not be true, so I thought.  A few minutes later google confirmed that the UK does indeed have a minister for a basic human emotion.  It troubled me on many levels.  First and foremost was the name.  If the minister for health was responsible for making us more healthy, and the minister for trade for making more trade, surely the minister for loneliness was meant to make us more lonely.  Would she travel the country executing our spouses and telling our friends that we secretly hate them?  The second and most troubling thought was the fact that the government are looking to minister our emotions.

Loneliness has not been the only somewhat peculiar topic on the agenda.  In the same week the government has announced a minister for suicide prevention.  Granted it is a significantly more appropriate name, and yet it also left me with a sense of disquiet.  When the two new ministers are considered together it becomes apparent that the government has become acutely aware of a mental health crisis across the UK.  The pertinent question is whether there is a genuine crisis or is this a case of a government encroaching on Big Brother territory.

In 2017 there were 5,821 suicides in the UK.  In a country of over 65 million people it sounds like a drop in the ocean.  When you look across Europe you find that although it is the fourth highest total in Europe, it is also the fourth lowest suicide rate in Europe.  Therefore, it seems strange that the government has chosen to pursue these two policies in a time of austerity, whilst slashing so many other services.

It is evident that across the country the budgetary cuts have played merry hell with mental health services.  It perhaps would be wiser to give the services that are in dire need of more funding the money earmarked for figuring out why people are lonely.  The fact is a lack of access to therapists and counselling, as a direct result of a lack of funding causes loneliness.  Overstretched mental health departments having to prioritise people’s problems causes loneliness.  Stupidly long waiting times for people suffering anxiety and distress cause loneliness.  Worst of all is that all of these problems, if fixed, would likely contribute to a lowering of the suicide rate and save actual lives.  It is not rocket science, it is basic human empathy.

If you like me are feeling exceptionally lonely, feeling isolated by a government that throws money at identifying the problem with people, rather than the problems caused by the system, feel free to contact our minister for loneliness.  I’m sure she will do her best to help…

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