The Loneliness Minister has revealed that her refugee mother who spent her first Christmas Day in the UK alone in a university library has inspired her in the new role.
Baroness Barran MBE, who has held the newly-created position since last summer, described loneliness as “a paralysing feeling” which can affect anyone.
Today, to coincide with ‘Blue Monday’ - which has become known as the most depressing day of the year - she is publishing a report looking back at achievements in tackling the issue since the government launched its loneliness strategy in October 2018.
However speaking to The Telegraph in a rare personal interview, she revealed that it is her own family history which drives her in her new role.
Asked why she cared so much about the issue, Baroness Barran, 60, said: “I think that all of us, at different points in our lives, have been lonely.
“And I know in my own family my mother was a refugee in this country during the war and she had a job in the day and at night she went to the LSE [London School of Economics] to do a degree.
“I remember, as a child, her telling me about her first Christmas in London during the war where she spent Christmas Day in the LSE library because she didn't know a soul or anybody who she could celebrate Christmas with.
“So, if you like those sort of stories, I’m sure all of us have got similar things in our friends and family, it just lives with u doesnt it?”
Her mother came to London from Budapest during the Second World War.
In January 2018, in response to the Jo Cox Commission report on loneliness, the government set out its first steps to help tackle the issue. This included appointing the world’s first minister to lead work on tackling loneliness.
In July last year the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) announced that Baroness Barran would take up the role as Minister for Civil Society, with a remit including youth and social action, loneliness, all DCMS business in the House of Lords and the Government Inclusive Economy Unit
Today’s official government report focuses on a number of grassroots initiatives and community groups all around the country, which the Minister says should be celebrated and expanded upon.
“Just the fact that you know what you’re experiencing is being experienced by many other people is helpful in and of itself,” she said.
“It's a bit healing just to know that you’re not the only one who feels like that. But I think also there is starting to be some evidence which suggests people who are lonely don't tell loved ones because they don't want to burden them, so actually giving people permission to talk about it to someone who is not their nearest and dearest is also helpful, I think.”
However she added that there is still much work to be done in terms of communication across varying government departments. “I don't want to give the impression that everything is perfect at all, of course not,” she said.
“I think we always have work to do as government about how we see and stitch our work together across departments, so some of the long term work that we need to do about integrating with other government departments, for example, the Department for Health and Social Care, or Department for Transport, that's just long term. I don't want to give the impression it hasn't gone well, it's just a slower conversation.”
The Minister added: “In general, I think we’ve got off to a good start - especially with the whole area around creating a conversation around loneliness. I think that’s gone extremely well in terms of engagement.
“Certainly we know from my own postbox and my MP’s postboxes that this is an issue that comes up all the time. When we met the new MPs the other day who'd just arrived here, that was the top thing they wanted to talk to me about.”
She also revealed that the the Office for Veterans’ Affairs approached her office for a collaborative project. As a result, the main focus for this year’s agenda would be “not just loneliness experienced by veterans but also the gifts that veterans can offer their communities”.
Baroness Barran had previously worked as an investment banker in Paris and London before founding the domestic abuse awareness charity, SafeLives, and served as its chief executive from 2004 to 2017.
She also currently holds various other roles including as trustee of the charities, Comic Relief, the Henry Smith Charity and The Royal Foundation.