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Around 46% of adults in England experience loneliness occasionally or more often, according to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Community life survey 2018-19 (2019). People with a long-term disability, widowed homeowners, unmarried middle-agers, and young renters, were found to experience the greatest likelihood of feeling some degree of loneliness. Overall, 6% of adults reported that they “often” or “always” felt lonely in 2018/19. 16-24-year olds saw the highest proportion reporting such an experience (9%) and the 65-74 age group the lowest (4%).

Notes: Table excludes respondents who answered “don’t know” and those with missing answers. A limiting long-term illness (LLTI) or disability is classified as someone having any physical or mental health condition or illness which are expected to last for 12 months or more and their condition and/or illness reduces their ability to carry out day to day activities. “Quintiles” represent 20% or one-fifth of all areas. Data presented with a 95% confidence interval.

Source: Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Community life survey 2018/19

There are concerns that the social distancing measures introduced in response in the Covid-19 pandemic could lead to an increase in loneliness, particularly amongst people who live alone and those ‘shielding’. The Office for National Statistics has been monitoring the impact of Covid-19, in particular “lockdown”, on loneliness. On 22 April 2020 the Government announced a plan to tackle loneliness in response to the pandemic. As part of this, the latest ‘Let’s Talk Loneliness’ was launched, and further measures such as ‘support bubbles’ have been introduced as lockdown measures have been eased.

Some academic research has suggested that loneliness (or social isolation) is linked to poorer health outcomes, including early death, higher rates of depression and cognitive decline. Loneliness may lead to higher costs in the public and private sector due to greater service usage, absences and productivity losses. One 2017 report, by the New Economics Foundation, estimated that loneliness cost UK employers £2.2-£3.7 billion per year (p. 35).

The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness (2017)

The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness published its report, Combatting loneliness one conversation at a time: A call to action, in December 2017. Many of its recommendations were adopted by the UK Government. This included adding cross-government work on loneliness to the remit of the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport and Civil Society. The Government also announced two funds to combat loneliness – £98 million for the healthy ageing programme and £20 million to support organisations working to combat loneliness (including a new £11 million Building Connections Fund).

The UK Government’s Loneliness Strategy (2018)

The Government’s loneliness strategy, A connected society, was published in October 2018. It set out how the UK Government would provide “national leadership” through a range of measures. These included:

  • The use of Office for National Statistics measures as the Government’s standard means of measuring loneliness.
  • initiatives to enable everyday services to connect with people at risk of loneliness, such as via social prescribing;
  • Strengthening local infrastructure, developing community spaces, and ensure loneliness is considered in the housing and planning system;
  • reducing stigma and raise awareness of the importance of social connections; and
  • support community groups and digital inclusion.

The first annual progress report was published in January 2020, and stated that the priorities for 2020 would be improving data relating to loneliness, the designing of policies for children and young people, and tackling loneliness through place and belonging.

The Strategy extends to England only. However, the Government aims to ensure that work is complementary with other nations. Scotland published its own strategy, A connected Scotland, in December 2018; a Welsh strategy was published in February 2020. Northern Ireland‘s Departments for Communities and Health are separately preparing scoping studies on loneliness (January 2020) and some separate departmental strategies currently exist. 

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