Earlier this month I hosted a loneliness summit in the constituency as part of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission. I brought together local parents and organisations to talk about parental loneliness and how we can tackle it. Experiencing isolation in the early months of parenthood, especially among new mothers, is an issue which has previously been often overlooked but has a huge impact on large numbers of people.
Research by Mush (a mobile app which helps connect mums) found that 50% of new parents leave their house only twice a week and 25% of parents leave only once a week and a recent survey by Action for Children found that 52% of parent’s experience loneliness. The survey of 2000 people found that the majority felt cut off from friends, colleagues and family after the birth of a child. In terms of the causes of loneliness, many cited lack of money and the inability to leave the house when caring for small children, leaving them feeling isolated.
In Parliament two weeks ago I spoke about my own experience suffering from loneliness after I became a mum. For me, the shift from having a busy job and a good social life - to being at home every day with a lot of time to suddenly fill and little structure, was quite a shock. After my maternity leave finished I started working from home and I could sometimes go for days without having a proper conversation with another adult. It became a vicious circle where the more isolated I became, the harder I found it to go out. You can se my speech in the video below.
At my loneliness summit, hearing about all the work being done to combat isolation was encouraging. From the Red Cross ‘Connecting Communities’ service to Mush - a mobile app which helps connect local mums. We also heard about the work of local children’s centres, Bromley & Lewisham Minds ‘Mindful Mums’ sessions (free groups for mums to build mental resilience) & Mummy’s Gin Fund (an online parenting community).
However, what was most clear from our discussion was the impact reduced NHS funding is having on Health Visitor and midwifery services. Health visitors and midwives play a vital role in supporting families with the physical health of their new child as well as the mental health of the parents. The mums who attended the summit told me that families rarely receive a continuous dedicated visitor and while the service is great at identifying mental health issues such as loneliness & post-natal depression, they often lack the resources to follow through and treat these issues. Mums also told me about the limited support available for breastfeeding.
Worryingly, the Health Visiting services were recently cut from Beckenham Beacon, leaving limited support for new parents in that area. I met with Bromley Council recently to raise my concerns about this and to ask for a new service to be provided locally. I am pleased to say that a new Health Advice Clinic will start at the Neighbourhood church on Cromwell Road on 30th November. I hope that this means more parents will be able to access support, as well as reducing the strain on the Health Visiting services at nearby Community Vision in Penge.
However, what is clear is that more funding is needed for these vital services to ensure that new parents get the help and support that they need – a big factor in tackling parental loneliness.
I will continue to fight for good local services and confront the challenge and stigma of loneliness. It is fantastic that awareness of parental loneliness has grown, helping parents to know it is ok to say they feel lonely and to ask for help. However, it is vital that services are properly funded so that when parents do ask for help, the services and resources are there.