LONELINESS in Wales: The Welsh Government has just announced a consultation on a Strategy to address loneliness in Wales.

We know that 17 per cent of the population in Wales are lonely, with 54 per cent saying they have experienced loneliness at some time in their life. Research shows that loneliness is harmful to our health, and increases the likelihood of mortality by 26 per cent.

Loneliness affects many parts of the population; single parents, those suffering from depression and anxiety, the homeless, young people and the elderly. Studies have found that loneliness peaks in the experiences of young people and then again in older people. For young people, we have seen severe cuts to youth services in local authorities in Wales, and loss of grants to Young Farmers Clubs. For older people, cuts to services such as day centres, and the Third Sector results in further isolation. .

Loneliness should be treated as a health issue, and integrated with our approaches to healthy living. For the Strategy in Wales, I would like to see funding targeted to ensure public transport is subsidised, if not free, to target groups, and that rural transport, particularly bus services, are not cut. This element should work in parallel with an integrated transport plan for Wales.

We need to embed long term funding of community services, particularly from the Third Sector, and ensure that there are befriending services to young people and the elderly.

Finally, Wales needs a new approach to staff and personnel working in this field. It is a scandal that those who look after our young people, elderly and vulnerable are treated so appallingly. For too long, the care and social sector has been seen as a "twilight" service with zero hours contracts, poor working conditions and the minimum wage being paid. We need to see this valued group of workers having a more significant profile in our communities.

I hope we see a much more integrated approach to address loneliness in Wales in the Strategy, due to be published in 2019. A strategy is useless if it is not independently monitored, with the Welsh Assembly being held to account for its implementation. I would like to see this Strategy being monitored and scrutinised, not by a paid Commissioner in the traditional sense, but by a team of people who are themselves affected by isolation, and will challenge our politicians and policy makers to ensure that we address the epidemic of loneliness in Wales.

Jane Dodds

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader