• 49.63% of British adults reported feeling lonely in 2022 occasionally, sometimes, often, or always and 3.83 million people reported experiencing chronic loneliness, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness.

    Loneliness was declared by the World Health Organisation a global threat in November 2023. In the UK, loneliness in society has increased since the pandemic.

    Former prime minister Theresa May’s government instituted the Ministry of Loneliness in 201​8, implementing the recommendations of Jo Cox’s Commission on Loneliness (a cross-party commission established in 2016 by the Labour MP, who was murdered that year) and while the Ministry has produced research on loneliness and launched strategies to mitigate it, it is not comprehensive. There is a lack of understanding about how the policies of austerity and the cost of living crisis’ have impacted communities and individuals’ social cohesion, and mental health in general.

    This is evident in the guidelines for the government’s recent campaign to tackle loneliness in universities. They are so vague that they fail to consider the costs of university for students, and inequality, as 55% of students are doing paid work to support their studies (compared to 45% in 2022).

    Over the last 14 years, Tory governments have continued to implement austerity measures, impacting the most vulnerable in society and seeing the closure of community hubs, from playing fields to community centres and libraries.

    The impact of loneliness in the UK cannot be separated from over a decade of cuts to social welfare and their impact on society, and this can also be applied to mental health.

    “Mental health-washing” is not the answer here. As the country looks to a general  election this autumn, it will be up to charities and grassroots groups to start conversations and advocate for future campaigns that consider the damaged texture of British society, beyond sanitised narratives, buzzwords and wishful thinking.

    The cost of living crisis, years of austerity under Tory governments since 2010, growing inflation, and a fall in real wages have provided a new space for trade unions in Britain, exemplified by a wave of strikes in 2022.

    In addition to the ongoing strikes in different sectors, there has also been a growth in union membership, also driven by a large increase of women joining up between 2017 and 2020.

    Historically, trade unions in the UK have secured workplace rights, including the minimum wage, maternity and paternity rights, pensions, holidays, and sick leave, and helped draw up the social agenda of the Labour Party, which was founded by unions and socialist societies in 1900.

    While unions were central to these developments, they reached their peak in 1979, with 13.2 million members. Consequently, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, as part of the Trans-Atlantic neoliberal consensus, antagonised unions front and centre in the 1980s.

    Thatcher’s mantra was “There is no such thing as society”, which was key to how her governments (and those of her successor John Major) implemented legislation to reduce unions’ power and influence, through restrictions to the right of picketing, ballots for strike actions and preventing members from supporting other unions.

    This setting also contributed to a progressive decline in union membership, which fell from its 1979 peak to below six million in the early 2010s.

    While the miners’ strike of 1984-85 challenged Thatcher’s policies against unions’ actions, its outcome saw a victory of a neoliberal consensus that outlasted the conservative governments.

    The return of the unions to the British stage after decades in the wings are a sign of hope and defiance for workers’ organisations in Europe. However, this contrasts with the British political scenery. The country faces a choice at the general election next year, between Tory PM Rishi Sunak’s anti-union legal position and Labour Party leader Keir Starmer’s centrist neo-Blairite stance.

    Racism in UK football may not seem as widespread as in Italy or Spain, but this does not mean that such bigotry against footballers belongs in the nation’s past.

    The abuse aimed at English players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka following their nation’s loss in the Euro 2020 final was the tip of the iceberg. Recently, during a match against Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur forward and South Korea captain Son Heung-Min encountered a racist gesture from a Palace fan.

    But a remarkable difference between England and Italy and Spain is that both clubs condemned the abuse, with Crystal Palace banning the fan from future games, while the police launched an investigation. The Football Association and football clubs in England, and the United Kingdom in general, are vocal and proactive in condemning and investigating racial abuse, unlike in many other European countries.

    In a Coppa Italia semi-final between Inter Milan and Juventus last April, Milan striker Romelu Lukaku faced racist chants from Juventus fans, and made a silent ‘shhh’ gesture to the crowd, which saw the referee send him off, and league suspend the Belgian international (the decision was later reversed).

    Spain tells a similar ugly story. Real Madrid winger Vinicius Jr faced abuse from La Liga competitor Valencia’s fans at a clash last month, and threatened to leave the pitch. A general issue in the two south European countries is the lack of an organised condemnation of racism, which still remains isolated and practised by a minority of fans.

    This goes beyond authorities implementing laws against racial discrimination to social media and sports culture, education, media awareness and a shift of perception, with teams and organisations like Kick it Out and Show Racism the Red Card, which monitor and condemn abuse in the UK.

    Racism has not gone from football in England, but the nation can demonstrate lessons that other European leagues could follow.

    UK prime minister Rishi Sunak is choosing a Thatcherite approach to tackling mass strikes in Britain. He is even pushing an anti-strike bill to mandate minimum service levels in sectors such as health, education, fire and rescue and transport during strike periods. This bill also allows bosses in the private and public sectors to fire striking workers.

    Despite the hard talk, trade unions and their members are giving no indication they will bow to government pressure. However, the Tories’ insistence on repeating their post-2010s austerity policy, when inequality is so deep in this country, will give workers way more reasons to strike.

    Trade unions were blasted by the Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher as the “enemy within” at the height of the “Winter of Discontent”, the long series of strikes in 1978 and 1979, which brought down the then-Labour Government. This label has re-entered the debate now, at a time when so many are going on strike.

    Trade unions in the UK are central to the country’s social development, as they founded the Labour Party, alongside socialist intellectuals in 1900, and helped bring in the Labour government of Clement Atlee in 1945, which established the National Health Service. Union membership rose to 9.5 million, almost 20 percent of the population, in 1950.

    Now, the cost of living crisis, the social impact of over twelve years of Conservative austerity measures, mounting inflation and the need to raise wages and improve working conditions are keys to understanding the massive wave of protest.

    On 1 February, teachers, civil servants, university lecturers, security guards, train and bus drivers will walk out in what is expected to be the single largest strike action day in the last 10 years, with half a million people expected to withdraw their labour, proving that UK unions are standing their ground, despite all odds.

    “I have a message for Liz Truss… We work hard. We work the longest hours in Europe,” the Trade Union Congress (TUC)’s General Secretary Frances O’Grady told her conference in October, referring to the former UK prime minister’s leaked audio comment that British workers needed more ‘graft’.

    British workers have fewer public holidays (known as bank holidays, as these were initially exclusive to bank workers) compared to their European peers.

    O’Grady and other union leaders have called for new bank holidays to reward British workers and this, paired up with data from the 2021 census of the Office for National Statistics, which highlights the UK’s diversity in terms of ethnicity and religion, creates an opportunity.

    Given the UK’s rich melting pot, workers of all confessions should have the same opportunity to celebrate their religious holidays with their families, from Ramadan to Diwali, from Hanukkah to Vaisakhi, as Christians celebrate theirs.

    As all British workers, religious and nonreligious, need more holidays, these times could be used to learn more about different communities in Britain, as happens during Black History Month.

    Another element that could reinforce a similar scenario is the role of the monarchy, as King Charles III inherited the Queen’s role as head of the Church of England, but at the same time, he labelled himself as “Defender of faiths” back in 1994 and will recognise all faiths during his coronation in May 2023.

    At a time when divisions run deep and social tensions are rising, the opportunity for holidays where all Britons rest and spend time with their families, while exchanging and learning about other communities, would pay tribute to the kaleidoscope of cultures, religions, and traditions that represent the United Kingdom today.