Living in a cohesive, integrated community is an important prerequisite to enjoying a safe, healthy and fulfilling life, but for a variety of reasons not all communities enjoy the same levels of cohesion and integration and some also experience multiple deprivations.
In a world where globalization, rapid social, technological, environmental and demographic change is transforming everyday life, community has frequently been perceived as breaking down or being under threat. In the years of austerity that followed the financial crisis of 2007-8 and the consequent pressure on local services such concerns heightened.
However, in recent years, there has also been a growing recognition that although disadvantaged communities have a range of complex and inter-related needs, they also have assets at the social and community level that can help strengthen community resilience and improve, or protect, people's health and well-being. At a time of fiscal restraint and increasing demand, identifying and making effective use of these assets to promote self-supporting communities is an integral part of a strengths-based approach to commissioning public services.
Digital exclusion can contribute to loneliness, as well as making it difficult to access information and services and secure employment. It is estimated that around 7% of people in Herefordshire used the internet more than three months ago or have never used the internet, however we know that nationally the percentage is much higher among elderly and disabled people.
Fuel poverty is a significant problem in Herefordshire, affecting a greater proportion of households than nationally. Approximately 60% of our older people live in rural areas where the risk of fuel poverty is increased by type and age of housing and lack of access to mains gas.
Loneliness and involuntary social isolation
People who live alone are at a higher risk of loneliness and although loneliness can affect any age group, a greater proportion of older people in Herefordshire live alone than nationally. Recent survey results suggest that around 6% of residents have contact with family, friends or neighbours once a month or less, and 8% feel lonely most or all the time.
Although it is important to recognise the contribution every individual can make to their community, and that everyone has strengths as well as weaknesses, some groups of people can have specific needs that mean they are more vulnerable than others and require specific forms of support at certain times. People can be more vulnerable for a variety of reasons, which could include disability, age, health or social care needs, or being a refugee or asylum seeker.