Jo Cox MP: Let’s appreciate volunteers helping the lonely this Christmas

Pictured Jo Cox, Labour's parliamentary candidate for Batley and Spen
Pictured Jo Cox, Labour's parliamentary candidate for Batley and Spen

Earlier this month I met a volunteer from Batley and Spen who spends some of his spare time each week visiting an elderly man. David volunteers as a befriender for the local Royal Voluntary Service. He visits, has a chat, helps out with a few things in the house and takes him out for a cuppa.

Every month I’m supporting or promoting a local charity and this month I wanted to use my Charity of the Month to highlight the wonderful work being done by RVS and organisations like them, especially at this time of year when loneliness and isolation are particularly acute.

The general election campaign brought the scale of the problem home to me, meeting so many people who raised the fact they were lonely. But what is truly startling is that most people affected won’t talk about it.

The Co-operative Group did a survey that found two thirds of people in Yorkshire would be uncomfortable confiding in a friend or relation that they feel lonely. Almost 30 per cent said they knew someone who was lonely and 14 per cent said they were regularly affected by loneliness. National research shows that among over 60s, one in five who experience loneliness say they have no one to turn to and there are 2.5million people over 60 who wouldn’t know where to go for help.

It is a particular problem among older people, with many fearing they will be a burden on loved ones or local services. The truth is that loneliness causes a burden on the NHS as the symptoms extend beyond mental health and have a detrimental effect on physical health.

This is why the sort of work David is doing is an incredibly valuable way of making a difference. And it is also simple, which means it is something many of us could easily help with. Looking in on a neighbour, visiting an elderly relative or making that call or visit we’ve been promising to a friend we haven’t seen in a long time.

In February the Mayor of Kirklees is sponsoring a civic celebration of volunteers, the unsung heroes making a difference in their community every day of the year. I hope anyone reading this will think about nominating anyone they know who deserves some recognition for the voluntary work they do.

Not only is this a very worthwhile event but it is also a wonderful way of promoting the sort of voluntary work David and thousands of others do right here. Sadly, while it’s nice to celebrate, increasingly more and more volunteers are needed to fill gaps in services that once were taken for granted. I hope more people with think about getting involved.

Finally, can I take this opportunity to wish all readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year.