The Reading Agency urges for £200m government intervention and 'Book Relief'

The Reading Agency urges for £200m government intervention and 'Book Relief'

Reading can help halt the “loneliness epidemic” but needs a £200m government injection as well as its own version of Sport Relief, according to a newly published report. Meanwhile The Reading Agency, which commissioned the report, has unveiled an inaugural programme ‘Reading Friends’ to empower older people, to coincide with the report’s findings.

‘A Society of Readers’, released on Thursday (2nd November) from literacy charity The Reading Agency and think tank Demos, has outlined how books significantly reduce feelings of loneliness for people aged 18 – 64 with reading also associated with having close relationships.

The report’s authors have called on the government to invest £200 million and to implement a range of reading-related policies, using reading to combat loneliness. The BBC is also urged to play an active active role in a public awareness campaign to create a “society of readers” - suggesting a ‘Book Relief ’campaign, similar to Comic Relief fundraiser Sport Relief, to raise money for reading charities and raise the profile of reading. Reading is an effective intervention for social isolation and loneliness, as well as other big societal issues, with reading helping to protect future generations, the report’s authors have said.

The report (front cover, pictured below) explores how reading can benefit wellbeing and mental health and recommends that the NHS should encourage Clinical Commissioning Groups to invest more in book-based interventions as part of its social prescribing strategy and fund the provision of book based therapies in libraries across the country. According to the publication, in the UK by 2030 loneliness in the UK will “reach epic proportions” with seven million people experiencing loneliness in the over-60 age group.

Coinciding is the launch of the national scheme ‘Reading Friends’ from The Reading Agency with funding from the Big Lottery Fund. By sharing stories in groups or one to one sessions, the scheme aims to empower and engage older people who are vulnerable and isolated, including people with dementia and carers. An evaluation of the pilot reported 88% of participants appreciated the increased social contact and the same percentage felt they added purpose to their week. A national rollout is planned for 2020.

Sue Wilkinson, chief executive of The Reading Agency said: “Demos’s predictions for 2030 offer a desperately concerning outlook. If we don’t start to tackle issues of loneliness, mental health and social mobility now, then we will continue to put pressure on our vital workforces such as the care sector and the NHS. 

“Through reading-based national interventions, we can futureproof our society, and ultimately use reading to help protect younger generations at risk of rising levels of loneliness.”

She said that the new campaign’s pilot had already proved successful. “We have already seen through our Reading Friends programme that social reading can have profound impact on older people who are often the most vulnerable in society. We hope these benefits will eventually be opened up to everyone.”

Demos’ chief executive Polly Mackenzie said: “The central message of this report is that the nation’s perception of reading must change.

“It should become a strategic social objective for us all – state, market and civil society, to work towards becoming a ‘society of readers’. Reading may not seem like a radical solution to solving some of the biggest issues of this generation, however this report proves that reading can train our brains and hold off dementia, help us foster connections with other people and alleviate loneliness and depression.”

She added: “It’s no exaggeration to say that reading can transform British society.” 

Demos is an independent charity which focuses on “championing people, ideas and democracy”. The report was written by the London-based organisation’s staff: researcher Sacha Hilhorst, head of research Alan Lockey and research intern Tom Speight, with support from The Reading Agency.

The report can be accessed from the Demos website.