Over 9 million people across the UK feel lonely either often or always suffer from Loneliness causing enough damage equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to a 2017 report published by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. This has lead Theresa May to appoint a Minister for Loneliness, a project first started by the late MP Jo Cox.

Who is taking on the role and what does it involve?

The role has been taken on by Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford who has also been Minister for Sport and Civil Society since 2015. Her role will be responsible for coming up with a national strategy to tackle isolation across all ages and find ways of measuring alienation in official statistics.

How many people feel loneliness in the UK?

More than 9 million people out of a population of 65.6 million say they are always or often lonely, according to the British Red Cross who describes loneliness and isolation as a "hidden epidemic" affecting people across all ages at various moments in their life, such as retirement, bereavement or separation.

Which groups of people are most affected?

Although loneliness affects all ages, certain groups are affected more than others with around 200,000 older people not having a conversation with a friend or relative for over a month. Over half of people over 75 years old living alone as well as 4 in 10 17-25-year-olds also feel lonely, with heavy users of social media having higher levels of perceived social isolation, according to recent research.

Meanwhile, 85% of young disabled adults aged between 18-34 years old feeling lonely, according to government research. Doctors in Britain see between 1 and 5 patients of all backgrounds every day who visit them mainly because they feel lonely and want company, according to The Campaign to End Loneliness.

What health risks are there linked to loneliness?

Loneliness has been linked with dementia, early mortality and high blood pressure and Crouch now faces the task of formulating a plan of action.

It can also affect health in other ways such as isolated people not exercising a sufficient amount, having a poor diet and being less willing to visit a doctor.

In turn, this can increase stress levels, driving up blood pressure and inflammation that could lead to heart disease. One study found that out of 45,000 people aged 45 and over, who suffered loneliness were at risk from heart disease, those who lived alone were more likely to die than those who shared a home with others.

In some extreme cases, it can also lead to a higher risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease, as well as mental and emotional issues and generally a lower life expectancy.

Where did the research come from?

The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, chaired by Rachel Reeves MP and Seema Kennedy MP, has spent the last year considering what the government and others can do to help. They have been working with 13 charities including Age UK and Action for Children to come up with ideas for change.

In a joint statement, they said they welcomed the government's "prompt response" to the report and the acceptance of the need for "a new ministerial lead who will have the responsibility for creating a national strategy".

The British report was commissioned by the Red Cross in partnership with the Co-Operative supermarket chain and published by the Jo Cox Commission in December.

The Commission was established by former Member of Parliament Jo Cox before she was murdered by a neo-Nazi in 2016, in the lead up to the UK's vote to leave the European Union. One of her main recommendations was for a minister of loneliness to be appointed to actively tackle the issue after she had experienced isolation herself both as a student and a young mother.

Her husband tweeted the following:

How can loneliness be stopped?

Methods to combat loneliness include developing the evidence base around the impact of different initiatives for tackling loneliness. These are; establishing appropriate indicators of loneliness across all ages with the Office for National Statistics; and the creation of a dedicated fund in conjunction with charitable trusts and foundations which will be used to provide seed funding for communities to come together and develop activities which enable people to connect but also scale-up and spread existing work offering practical and emotional support to help lonely individuals reconnect with their communities.

A cross-government strategy to find ways to stop people feeling lonely with input from national and local government, public services, the voluntary sector and businesses will also be published in 2018, the Prime Minister has confirmed.

What reaction has there been so far?

Political analysts described the issue as one that struck a chord across the political spectrum, at a time of otherwise highly divided politics.

There has been some criticism of the appointment on social media, however, with users pointing out a link between loneliness and government cuts to community services such as public libraries, youth centres and community halls.

When asked whether this is where the problem lay, Crouch said these were all challenges and would be looked at.

He also said a multimillion-pound fund would help the minister create a framework for the future but stressed there is no single solution.

On Wednesday, Theresa May hosted an event at Downing Street to celebrate Jo Cox’s legacy, and the work of her family, Foundation and Commission in highlighting how many people are experiencing loneliness where she also announced the government is accepting a series of recommendations from the Commission.