Our parish clergy and lay workers try really hard to reach out to the isolated and lonely day in, day out. In addition, the free DailyHope telephone line—0800 804 8044—from the Church of England has been described as a “spiritual lifeline” for many isolated and vulnerable people. More than 620,000 people have listened to its prayers, hymns and services. It was recently described by one listener as,
“Something of a raft on which to hang on for dear life on occasions.”
Churches have loci in every community. Across our country, a staggering 9 million people experience loneliness frequently or occasionally. As a result, in the coming Christmas season, many people will be isolated. They might be a new mum, somebody who has lost someone dear to them or somebody who has been left lonely because of the twists and turns of life. Churches could develop a loneliness strategy to address that issue across our communities and to provide friendship, love and hope to people. This season gives real impetus to the opportunity to do that. Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that the Church has a proper loneliness strategy, not just on the phone but in person, to support people across our communities?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this incredibly important point, and at this time of year as well, when it is even more significant for many people. She is right that Christmas can be an especially lonely time, which is why I am pleased, for example, that churches such as St Michael le Belfrey in York are running the Love Christmas campaign as part of a national project to provide 1 million bags of kindness across the country. For some people, that Christmas gift will be the only one they receive, and there have been wonderful stories of people joining local churches after that type of outreach. I would say to her that a lively worshipping, outward-looking church, which looks to speak to the issue of loneliness, at the heart of our community is one of the best antidotes to the loneliness she speaks about.