The government's planned reform of the health care system does nothing to combat loneliness and isolation amongst people who are most in need of support.
The Communities connected: inclusion, participation and common purpose report concludes that by creating a more ‘transactional' or impersonal relationship between the users and providers of public services, government reforms will not build or sustain the social networks that are vital for both people's physical and mental health.
Associate Director of Connected Communities at RSA, Emma Norris said:
"The Government's Health and Social Care Bill does little to address the problems of loneliness and isolation that cause severe harm to our communities and to people's mental health. This report shows us how health services could be redesigned so that they actually support and strengthen people's relationships."
Authors of the report, Professor David Morris FRSA and Alison Gilchrist set out a series of recommendations for government and health care bodies including:
Commissioners of public services, such as GP consortia or Local Authorities in charge of public health spending, should aim to build people's social networks as well as aiming for more conventional medical outcomes.
Commissioners of public services should protect, build on and utilise those things in the community that currently contribute positively to people's mental and physical health. These 'assets' could be well connected people, buildings, associations, organisations or cultural assets.
Engaging the community with public services should be done in way that encourages people to make connections with others in their community that they would not normally come into contact with.
When service users gain access to individual budgets they should be supported to develop a more self-aware form of autonomy. For example, service users should be supported to create a map of their connections to help them see the range of resources that are already available to them.
The paper is part of the RSA's Connected Communities project which examines the social networks of several thousand people (in seven locations) across England. This project will give us a greater understanding of how people's social networks operate and how interventions can be designed to support and utilise community connections.