Loneliness threatens young as well as old
Loneliness should be recognised as a problem for all age groups, says Tracey Crouch, the minister about to reveal England's first loneliness strategy.
She says there needs to be a "national conversation" to end the stigma about admitting to feeling lonely.
"The government can't make friends for us," she told a conference in London.
But Ms Crouch said the strategy will help to improve "social connections" and to get better evidence about what really works in reducing loneliness.
The loneliness minister says attitudes to taking loneliness seriously are "where we were with mental health a decade ago".
The loneliness strategy, commissioned by the prime minister and expected next week, will not be focused on the elderly, but would recognise how feelings of loneliness could deeply affect people at many times in their lives.
Ending the stigma
"It's a common misconception that it only happens in later life," the minister told a conference organised by the Campaign to End Loneliness, supported by a coalition of charities.
Ms Crouch said she had been shocked by the negative impact of isolation, which can affect young people, new parents, the bereaved, those who had lost touch with their family, as well as those in old age.
The minister for loneliness said it was a major health problem that needed to be tackled as much as smoking or obesity.
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The strategy will work across departments, including transport, education and health.
Rising up agenda
The minister recognised that some local services which could reduce loneliness have been affected by austerity.
"Decisions taken at central government level and local government level may well have impacted some people's connectivity in their communities.
"There's no point pretending that has not happened," said Ms Crouch.
The strategy will also try to create a clearer picture of the extent of the problem.
The minister said the Office for National Statistics would produce a more "consistent" definition for measuring loneliness, which would provide better evidence on what works in reducing it.
But Ms Crouch told the conference that loneliness was rising up the political agenda.
"The government now recognises loneliness as one of the biggest health challenges we face."