23 December 2020

S5M-23326 Covid-19 (Loneliness and Social Isolation)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The first item of business is a member’s business debate on motion S5M-23326, in the name of Rachael Hamilton, on understanding the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on loneliness and social isolation. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.

We are a bit pushed for time today so please stick to the timings.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it considers the damaging impact of social isolation and loneliness throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; considers that it has had a pronounced effect on older and vulnerable people; understands that studies have shown that, in the long term, it can be as bad for human health as smoking or obesity; acknowledges the recent University of Stirling study, which found that 56% of people said social distancing had made them more lonely; notes the concerns raised in the recent British Red Cross report, Lonely and left behind: Tackling loneliness at a time of crisis, that 32% of UK adults agree that they worry something will happen to them and no one will notice; commends the British Red Cross’s work, especially in Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire with the Coronavirus Resilience Calendar, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government to consider the report’s recommendations in full in order to tackle social isolation and improve mental health and wellbeing.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing the debate and giving me the opportunity to talk about this important subject.

Today, as it did yesterday and will do for the days to come, Covid-19 erodes the human spirit and hard times are here for us all. The burden is physical, mental and, for many, spiritual; and the weight continues to bear down on us all. It is hard to accept—it is not rational and not chosen—and people across the planet are struggling. That is no wonder, because Covid-19 has hammered our global society, stealing the lives of family and friends, and it is direct, violent and destructive.

To slow Covid’s rampant advance, we have been forced to adopt social distancing and other necessary measures so that we may somehow reduce or allay its destructive force. However, we are a social species, and those measures come at a cost. That cost is social isolation and loneliness. According to the British Red Cross’s report “Lonely and left behind”, more than half of adults say that reduced social contact has made life harder, and two thirds say that concerns about coronavirus have caused them to minimise their interactions, even when the rules permit it. What is worse is that two fifths of adults across the UK report that they have not had a meaningful conversation in the past fortnight.

Those are clear signs of a deteriorating psyche, with serious consequences. For the vulnerable, that is even more the case. Unable to see their friends and families, their lives are affected more than most, and the insidious force of loneliness penetrates, pervasive and enduring. Confidence decays, hope begins to hollow and wellbeing vanishes. We are trapped in the dark, suffering alone and under immense stress, for the simple reason that we cannot hold our loved ones or have the luxury of seeing our friends.

That comes with physical costs as well as mental costs. When someone needs support, it is in our nature to offer a hand. When others speak, we should—and mostly do—listen. We laugh together and we cry together. Our connection is obvious. We depend on each other, and that is what gives our lives meaning. The pandemic has shaken that.

There are solutions, though. We just need to innovate. Thankfully, that is happening. Vaccines are being created and new ways to connect, such as the one that we are using today, are being developed.

I join my colleague in commending the British Red Cross on its creation of a coronavirus resilience calendar. That is the kind of impressive innovation that we need, and I hope that it will be shared with others. I also agree that the calls by the Red Cross are well made. This is a far-reaching issue.

In my youth, Christmas day was a working day that was not much different from normal days, but it has become a day for family and for connection. We should all do what we can to help those who are lonely and affected by this dreadful virus and their lack of contact with other human beings.


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