Part of Members' Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:15 pm on 6 December 2021.

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Photo of Sinéad Bradley Sinéad Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party 12:15, 6 December 2021

I rise to bring forward an issue that exists across all constituencies. Loneliness was an issue prior to COVID but, unfortunately, has been exacerbated by it. I thank those Members who have joined me on the all-party group (APG) on preventing loneliness, because it is a silent pandemic that is running through our community.

I admit that, on embarking upon my role as the Chair of the APG on preventing loneliness, I had a very swift education on who are most affected. I was guilty, as many are, of taking the default position that elderly people are the most affected, particularly around this time of year and the Christmas season when we are around family. I have learned that that is not the case, and plentiful evidence supports that.

Without a doubt, loneliness really impacts on a person's quality of life. It can arise during any dramatic time in your life when there is a change in your circumstances. It may even be a positive thing, such as the move into married life: when people are moved from their community or routine, they can experience loneliness. It may be after having a baby or moving house, and it can affect children who have recently moved schools. There are lots of pinpoints across a lifetime when loneliness can be, and is, experienced by many.

I am conscious that a lot of legislation is going through the House. I therefore ask all Members, regardless of the field of work or specialism with which they are charged in the House, to take moment and think about any proposals or policy changes that they have in front of them to see whether there is an opportunity to try to work to prevent loneliness. Also, be very mindful about proposing anything that may have the unintended consequence of exacerbating loneliness in society.

I thank those who have carried out significant work in this area, including the Commissioner for Older People and the Commissioner for Children and Young People, who have taken on a lead role. I also thank all members of the all-party group on preventing loneliness and give a particular personal mention to the Red Cross and Age NI, which have helped me.

Finally, I ask Members to be aware that the Christmas season is approaching, throughout which lots of people will, no doubt, feel lonely. I therefore ask all Members to make aware of that all those community groups that can and will help.