Towards a new policy vision on social isolation
As is the case with many issues, there are all kinds of general notions and views on social isolation, among citizens as well as policymakers. Social isolation is often seen as characteristic of certain categories of people, such as the unemployed, seniors, singles, the sick, addicts and the homeless. The assumption is that the non-participation or the living situation of these people strongly increases their chances of social isolation. Neighbourhood circumstances are also seen as a breeding ground for social isolation, for example, living in certain neighbourhoods that have a high degree of cultural and ethnic diversity, and different lifestyles and codes of behaviour. Sometimes we link isolation to personal characteristics and circumstances. The idea that mental factors can play a significant role has gradually become accepted and in this sense we have become aware of the risks run by overburdened informal carers or lone parents. When governments in western societies formulate policies on social isolation, the focus tends to be on the consequences of unemployment and old age, or living in marginalized neighbourhoods. This underemphasizes social isolation as an independent phenomenon – which can affect everybody – and this is regrettable, because social isolation often manifests itself in a concealed way emerging, for instance, through health problems, deviating behaviour, feelings of uneasiness with living and the avoidance of recreational facilities.