IT’S easy to get caught up in present-giving at Christmas when the greatest gift of all is something we can all afford – time.

This is definitely the month when, alongside all the good cheer and family spirit, loneliness can settle as quickly and completely as an early morning frost.

In the UK today, it is estimated that nine million adults suffer from loneliness. Now, a new report reveals that it is as harmful to our health as smoking or obesity.

The report has come from the Jo Cox Commission, set up by the late MP before her murder in June last year. Perhaps surprisingly, it shows that loneliness is not just something suffered by older people, but cuts across all ages.

It was launched by two MPs, Labour’s Rachel Reeves and Tory Seema Kennedy, who are calling for the appointment of a minister to deal with loneliness. And before you’re tempted to think that would be a rather vague brief, the practical side would include a publicity campaign to help people help others and for a “family and relationships test” to ensure that policies do not, in fact, add to people’s isolation.

Just to underline the importance of combating loneliness, bear in mind that the Chief Nursing Officer for England, Professor Jane Cummings, has also commented that “social isolation can have a devastating impact, not only on people’s mental wellbeing but evidence shows that it can also increase the risk of premature death by around a third.”

NHS staff see first-hand the extreme consequences of loneliness and how it is no respecter of age or situation.

While this report may not prove earth-shattering – especially at a time of year when people are very taken up with their own lives – it is a good time to reflect on what we can do as individuals.

Have we got elderly relatives or single friends who may have to spend long periods alone? While Christmas does unnaturally highlight people’s singularity, with shops closed and “normal life” suspended if only for a short time, it doesn’t take much to pop in to see someone on a regular basis. That short visit could prove to be the highlight of their day.

Could you include someone else in your own family’s festivities and special meals? It’s only one more chair at the table.

Even thinking about how you might be able to help someone is a great start.