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Nearly half of UK population lonely

Campaigners call for action to help communities ‘bounce back’ from impact of pandemic on social networks

Published by Professional Social Work magazine, 7 February, 2022

Loss of socialising caused by the pandemic is having long lasting effects on the population as loneliness levels look set to reach a million more than before Covid-19.

New data from the Campaign to End Loneliness and the government’s Tackling Loneliness Evidence Review points to increased loneliness across the UK, and particularly among young people.

And there are warnings that even despite an easing of restrictions, Covid-19 continues to impact on social isolation.

New analysis of loneliness data by the Campaign to End Loneliness found levels of loneliness across Britain have still not returned to pre-Covid levels, with 45 per cent of people in the UK (around 25 million people) saying they feel lonely. And 3.3 million people (6.3 per cent) say they are ‘chronically lonely’ even with the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Younger people (16-29 years) are more likely to report feeling lonely than older people.

Levels of loneliness are higher than before Covid-19 - between  April and May 2020, five per cent of people (about 2.6 million adults) said that they felt lonely “often” or “always”. 

Younger people aged between 16-29 years were most likely to say they were lonely often or always, and nine per cent reported chronic loneliness, compared to four per cent of over 70s.

Women are more likely than men to experience loneliness (56 per cent of women compared to 43 per cent of men surveyed) and are significantly more likely to report feeling lonely some of the time/occasionally than men.

The figures are backed by a government evidence review, Tackling Loneliness, which recently consulted a network of experts.

The review states: “Loneliness affects most people, but chronic loneliness has been linked to poor physical health, mental health and poor personal wellbeing. There is now more data on loneliness for the UK population, including from during the pandemic using consistent measures for adults.”

Reported loneliness is higher for those who are:

  • 16-24 years old
  • female
  • single or widowed
  • living with a limiting mental health condition
  • renters
  • lower neighbourhood belonging
  • lower local social trust
  •  

Analysis from the pandemic found loneliness to be more prevalent in areas with higher numbers of people aged 16-24 years or unemployed during the pandemic. Young people also reported feeling particularly lonely in densely populated urban areas, including at university.

Robin Hewings, programme director of the Campaign to End Loneliness said:

“These figures highlight that even when restrictions lift our feelings of loneliness  do not quickly go back to normal.

“Loneliness can have a hugely damaging impact on our mental and physical health. “Chronic loneliness is hard to get out of and it will take time and support for people to recover and rebuild their social connections up again.”

The organisation is calling on collective action to address the impact of loneliness on mental wellbeing.

“Particular groups such as young people, those living alone and people in more deprived communities will also need particular targeted support to help them ‘bounce back’ from the impact of Covid-19 on their social networks,” Hewings added.

Even before the pandemic one in five people in the UK felt lonely always or often.

A national conference on loneliness examining policy and best practice is to take place in May.