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Public transport should be ‘loneliness proofed’ and digital divide tackled, say MPs

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The government has been called to 'proof' public transport against loneliness by ensuring that new transport routes and infrastructure are designed to maximise social connection.

The call from MPs in the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Loneliness comes after many people have lost loved ones during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a report, it called on the Department for Transport to require local transport authorities to factor in the need to travel to leisure and social activities in local transport planning as well as consult those with expertise on local needs in relation to loneliness and social isolation.

It also said the government needed to do more to tackle the digital divide, with technology becoming the primary form of communication during the pandemic.

“We can no longer afford to leave people digitally disconnected, so investing in digital infrastructure and skills will be vital,” it said.

The APPG also said the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should invest £130m over four years to support four million people cross the digital divide, including by increasing digital skills and confidence.

Other recommendations include creating more accessible green spaces, parks and gardens, public toilets, playing areas, local bus services, and ramps for people with disabilities.

“The Prime Minister should commit to a 'Connected Recovery' from the Covid-19 pandemic, recognising the need for long-term work to rebuild social connections following periods of isolation and the importance of connection to resilience to future shocks,” the report reads.

In a survey of 2,000 UK adults in March, four in 10 said they feared it will be difficult to reconnect with people they have been out of contact with when lockdown restrictions lift.

It also found that 30 per cent said a lack of facilities like public toilets or local buses will stop them meeting people when restrictions lift.

Conservative MP Neil O’Brien, who is chairman of the APPG, said his most isolated constituents have been the least able to cope during the pandemic, which has highlighted the importance of connected communities.

“This means more public toilets, better street lighting, ramps and quiet safe spaces, so that everyone from all ages and all backgrounds has the facilities they need in order to make valuable friendships in their area,” he said.

“With strong progress being made on the rollout of the vaccination and the easing of restrictions in sight, there is growing hope.

“But the economic and social impacts of Covid-19 will be long-lasting and we will have tough choices to make. Connecting our communities will be critical to our country’s ability to recover and build back better.”

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