Despite our ever more connected world, we live in an age of disconnection. The technology to communicate instantly and everywhere may be at our fingertips. But our sense of human connection, empathy and community has been weakened.
A wide range of forces have, layer by layer, built up this separation. Economic trends like globalisation and digitisation, cultural shifts like the rise in single occupancy living, and even bureaucratic efficiencies like automated phone lines have reduced human interaction, contributing to a creeping and corrosive loneliness.
Research shows that this epidemic of loneliness is more than a personal crisis. It's a public health crisis and a political crisis too. It’s a public health crisis because loneliness can lead to strokes, dementia and heart attacks, as well as being strongly associated with mental health problems. And it’s a political crisis because it leads to distrust and is linked to polarisation, division and discrimination.,, Loneliness is also estimated to cost the economy £32bn annually in absence and lost productivity.
Research shows that this epidemic of loneliness is more than a personal crisis. It's both a public health and political crisis, too.
We need to take steps to tackle this disconnection as a priority. I propose a simple start; a five-pence charge on self-service transactions—an anti-social behaviour levy on each of the over six billion one-sided interactions that occur every year.
There’s a good argument for this, because while evidence shows that most people prefer convenience in the moment, many do not like the way these interactions over time make them feel and how they reduce opportunities for human interaction.,, This is a trade-off that needs balancing, every bit as much as our overuse of carrier bags was rebalanced with a similar levy from 2015.
Given the cost-of-living crisis, this charge should be paid by the supermarket rather than the consumer. Extrapolating from figures calculated by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Social Integration, it might raise perhaps £150m a year specifically to fund projects that build social capital in local communities. Those projects could include replacing lost venues and congregational spaces with newly emerging community-owned football clubs, or intergenerational programmes like those led by The Cares Family. The fund could also support large-scale research or trials into reducing loneliness, so we know more about what works. We need to protect local sites and sources of belonging that encourage empathy, wellbeing and connection—a loneliness levy could set us on that path.