People who run small businesses are doers. My friend Jo Cox was a doer too. She came into Parliament with a list of things she wanted to change, and top of the list was people being lonely.
It was Jo’s own experience of loneliness, at university, that convinced her that everyone – the public, business and Government – needed to roll up their sleeves in order to tackle it. Jo set up the Commission on Loneliness to ‘kick-start’ the issue. After her murder, I joined Seema Kennedy MP in co-chairing the Commission.
Loneliness is bad for your health. All the evidence shows that people who are well connected live longer, and people who are lonely die sooner. Put simply, being lonely is now considered to be equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s also linked to coronary heart disease and strokes.
We began the year tackling the idea that being in work immunises you against loneliness. Four in 10 Brits say they have felt lonely since becoming their own boss. More of us live alone and increasingly work alone, whether at home or in a van, with just a stylus and tablet for company.
FSB has done its part, not only setting up a networking group, FSB Connect, but also including loneliness in its 2017 election manifesto, calling on Government to respond to the Commission’s work.
In January, the Prime Minister appointed a Minister for Loneliness. The Government has also begun work on the Commission’s other recommendations – a national strategy, measuring loneliness and funding interventions.
However, Jo would not have rested there, so neither will we. A new all-party parliamentary group will press for business to play an important role in formulating the national strategy. FSB will help ensure that it is not dominated by big companies with public affairs teams and corporate social responsibility budgets.
Businesses will need to move from seeing loneliness as an issue for someone else to solve to seeing the direct business impact. Better engaged and more resilient business owners in connected and self-supporting communities will create happier and healthier customers, and therefore more profit.
Greater consideration will need to be given to the way remote and tech-enabled business owners interact with each other, their staff and suppliers. Businesses must decide whether the most efficient way of doing something is actually the most effective, particularly in developing loyalty from customers they will never meet.
The founder of Mummy’s Gin Fund – set up to buy and sell old baby clothes – discovered that customers wanted to talk, and the business now includes a thriving online community for local parents.
At the Commission we talked about the ‘permission of snow’ – the times when something unusual happens, such as snowfall or a train breaking down, that allows people to talk to each other. It usually makes us feel good. We hope that the Commission’s work has created permission for all of us, including small businesses, to play a role in reducing loneliness.