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Connecting Bromley - reducing social isolation in Bromley

What is Social Isolation?

Social isolation refers to a lack of contact with family or friends, community involvement, or access to services.  The absence or weakness of a person’s social network indicates whether the person is socially isolated.  Social isolation can be caused physically through distance or disability or emotionally through social stigmas or tragic events.

What is Loneliness?

Loneliness is an individual’s personal, subjective sense of lacking desired affection, closeness and social interaction with others.  Although loneliness has a social aspect, it is also defined by an individual’s subjective emotional state. Loneliness is more dependent on the quality than the number of relationships.

Loneliness can be a temporary, recurrent, or persistent (chronic) state.

How are they related?

Although the terms social isolation and loneliness can sometimes be used interchangeably they are different. 

People can be socially isolated, but not lonely, whilst people who have many social contacts can be lonely.  However, there is a group of people who are both socially isolated and lonely.

Who is affected?

Reducing social isolation across the life course (2015) by UCL Institute of Health Equality outlines the impact of social isolation, risks and impact on health in four groups: pregnancy and early years; children and young people; working-age adults and retirement and later life.  It also looks at interventions to reduce social isolation in these groups. Find out more.

Social Isolation and Loneliness in the UK (2017) summarises the impact of factors on social isolation and loneliness, groups at risk:  pregnancy and early years; childhoods and adolescences; young adults, working age and retirement and later life.  It also looks at a number of solutions. Read the full report.

The You're not alone (March 2017) research report by Relate based upon The Way We Are Now survey of more than 5,000 people across the UK shows that social isolation and loneliness is a widespread issue that affects people of all demographics, and can have damaging impacts on health and wellbeing. You may find it useful to read the Your're not alone report which highlights: 

  • More than an eighth of people (13%) reported themselves as having no close friends
  • Two-fifths (40%) of people who have no close friends also said they never or rarely feel good about themselves
  • Almost half (45%) said they feel lonely at least some of the time, and almost a fifth (18%) said they feel lonely often or all of the time
  • Nearly a sixth (17%) of people reported they never or rarely feel loved
  • Younger people (16-35) were less likely to report having ‘good’ quality relationships, and more likely to state they feel lonely ‘often or all of the time’ than older respondents

A Red Cross report looks at causes and predictors of isolation, measuring isolation and consequences of isolation.  It looks at 6 groups of those at risk of isolation: family-related loneliness (bereavement, divorce, young care leavers); disability and ageing (physical disability, sensory impairments, later life); resource-constrained groups (poverty and deprivation, transport and mobility); stigmatised groups (refugees/asylum seekers, people with learning disabilities or mental ill-health); occupational loneliness (carers) and deliberately isolated groups. Read the full review on Isolation and loneliness: an overview of the literature (2016).

Befriending Networks looks at prevalence in the UK by age, gender, marital status, household type and income. You can find out more in the Summary of recent research evidence about loneliness and social isolation, their health effects and the potential role of befriending

Find out how people can be supported and how to measure success. We also have more information on the impact of social isolation and what the local picture is.  

People with learning disabilities

Research carried out by Mencap showed nearly half of young people aged 18-35 (47%) with a learning disability would like to spend more time outside their house. One in three said they spend less than one hour outside their homes on a typical Saturday.  Read the press release: Learning Disability Week highlights isolation face by young people with a learning disability (2016)

Mencap also has the latest information including adult social networks usually only include people they live with and support staff and 41% do not have more than yearly contact with family members they do not live with. Read more on Friendship and socialising - research and statistics.

A physical disability may also lead to social isolation as it can prevent some people from leaving the house, or experiencing things they were previously able to do. It may also cause a loss of independence, especially if the disability requires the care of family members or professionals. This can lead to great feelings of helplessness and depression. Read the full report: Mental health of those suffering with physical or learning disabilities by the Shaw Mind Foundation.

A report by Sense for the Jo Cox Commission on loneliness addresses a number of disabilities separately including rates of loneliness/isolation, causes and case studies of how individuals have overcome. Read Someone cares if I'm not there - Addressing loneliness in disabled people (July 2017).

Autism

The National Autistic Society explains why people with autism are socially isolated and how to overcome this isolation and the factors leading to it.  Read more about advice it offers to people with autism to take part in groups and activities.

Sense for the Jo Cox Commission on loneliness addresses a number of disabilities separately including rates of loneliness/isolation, causes and case studies of how individuals have overcome.

As many as 79 per cent of autistic people and 70 per cent of their families feel socially isolated; 81 per cent say they feel lonely at least some of the time because of anxiety relating to their autism; 81 per cent of young people with autism believe they spend less time socialising than their peers. Read: Someone cares if I'm not there - Addressing loneliness in disabled people (July 2017).

People with mental ill-health

Sense for the Jo Cox Commission on loneliness addresses a number of disabilities separately including rates of loneliness/isolation, causes and case studies of how individuals have overcome. 

Loneliness and social isolation can have a significant impact on your mental health, and mental health problems often lead to feelings of isolation. Over half of people who have experienced depression or anxiety have reported isolating themselves from friends and family. Read: Someone cares if I'm not there - Addressing loneliness in disabled people (July 2017).

Loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health.  Loneliness puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline (James et al, 2011). One study concludes lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia (Holwerda et al, 2012). Lonely individuals are more prone to depression (Cacioppo et al, 2006) (Green et al, 1992). Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age (O’Connell et al, 2004). Read Threat to Health on the Campaign to end loneliness website for more information.

Physical disability, sensory impairments and/or long term conditions

The Sense report for the Jo Cox Commission on loneliness gives a number of solutions to address loneliness in disabled people in general some societal, some local and some national. 38% of disabled people aged 18 to 34 feel lonely on a typical day.

People with sensory impairments: Fourteen per cent of adults with a vision impairment say they never or rarely have as much social contact as they would like, and say they feel very or completely cut off from the people and things around them.

Physical and mobility impairment: Lack of accessible transport, car parking, housing, public buildings, toilets and wheelchairs all contribute to being isolated. 38% of disabled people aged 18 to 34 feel lonely on a typical day.

Dementia: More than a third of people with dementia admit to feeling lonely, rising to nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) for people with dementia who live alone. A third (33 per cent) of people with dementia said they lost friends following their diagnosis.  Almost 1 in 10 only leave the house once a month.

Head and brain injury: 74 per cent of people with a brain injury report that their social life has been negatively affected as a direct result of their impairment.

Neurological conditions eg Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Motor Neurone Disease (MND):  People with Parkinson’s typically report very sharp increases in social isolation as their condition progresses, with a very negative impact on quality of life.

Cancer: One in six people who were diagnosed with cancer more than 10 years ago have not been visited by a friend or family member for at least six months.

HIV: A third of people living with HIV aged 50 and over are socially isolated, and 82 per cent of over 50s living with HIV experience moderate to high levels of loneliness. People aged over 50 living with HIV are at least three times more likely to experience high levels of loneliness than the general population.

Read the full report on Someone cares if I'm not there - Addressing loneliness in disabled people  (July 2017).

Carers

Research by Carers UK in 2015 found that 83% of carers surveyed felt lonely or isolated due to their caring role. Read the full report Alone and Caring.

Studies have found that young carers experience heightened levels of social isolation and loneliness due to stress and anxiety brought about by their caring responsibilities. Find out more on Reducing social isolation across the life-course (2015) by UCL Institute of Health Equality. 

People undergoing life changes

A Red Cross/Co-op report concludes that loneliness stems from a combination of personal, community, and UK-wide factors rather than being the product of one event or change in circumstances. The importance of role and identity was a recurring theme across our research; the lack of identity or lack of clarity over assigned roles in society, for example caused by a life transition, was a key trigger for loneliness.  The report examines the individual, community and societal drivers which can lead to social isolation as well as the different types of support which could be effective in reducing isolation and the types of organisation which could support this. You can read Trapped in a bubble - An investigation into triggers for loneliness in the UK (Dec 2016).

Young mums/parents

The charity Family Action found that 20% of expectant mothers lack a supportive social environment to help them through their pregnancy. This percentage rises for expectant mothers in low income households. Mothers without supportive social environments have been seen to suffer from increased levels of depression and there is a growing body of evidence linking maternal depression to impaired early child development. Therefore, social isolation among expectant mothers has the potential to transfer disadvantage across generations. You can read more on Reducing social isolation across the life-course (2015) by UCL Institute of Health Equality. 

For all parents it is common for one parent to give up or scale-back work commitments in order to take care of the children which can lead to a reduction in the number of daily social interactions.

Young mothers are at a higher risk of postpartum depression than average, which is associated with feelings of isolation and low self-esteem.  A Young Mums' group was developed in a Children's Centre to meet a wide range of needs. One of the outcomes of the group was to reduce young mothers’ isolation by providing a network of supportive peers who shared similar past experiences and future challenges. Read the report on Young Mums Together by the Mental Health Foundation.

Action for Children have reported 24% of parents surveyed said they were always or often lonely.

During pregnancy and after giving birth a fifth of women do not have friends or family nearby who they can turn to, this rose to a third among women in the lowest income group.  Thirty per cent said they were not aware of local services to support them through feelings of isolation and depression. Find out more information on the Family Action Survey (2012) by Family Action and Bounty UK.

Parents of disabled children

A Contact a Family reports findings of a survey about levels of isolation and the impact on family life. Find out more on Forgotten Families The impact of isolation on families with disabled children (2011).

Parents responding to the survey by Scope in 2014 admitted that they often feel isolated as a parent of a disabled child - nine in ten (92%) said they feel that parents who don’t have disabled children are unaware of the challenges they face. For more information read the Scope research.

Young people leaving care

Social isolation and loneliness in the young is generally caused by bullying due to non-conformance to local norms in the areas of physical appearance, ethnicity, spoken languages, cultural attitudes, beliefs and sexuality. These factors result in an increased risk of being bullied or excluded by peers. Furthermore, children who have come from unstable backgrounds, such as those who have grown up in care, are also more likely to suffer from social isolation and loneliness. Children who experience sustained social isolation and loneliness typically have lower educational outcomes, as well as higher rates of smoking and obesity in adulthood. Read the full report on Reducing social isolation across the life-course (2015) by UCL Institute of Health Equality.  

77% of the care leavers surveyed by the Centre for Social Justice highlighted their feelings of loneliness or social isolation when leaving care.

Young adults

Starting university or entering employment may lead to social isolation and loneliness as young people adapt to these changes. However, it is those individuals that do not progress to further education, training or employment that are most at risk of becoming socially isolated and lonely. Being a young person that is not in education, training or employment (NEET) has a detrimental effect on future life chances due to the lack of opportunities to develop skills. This leads to individuals falling behind their peers in the labour market, and may result in long-term income deprivation and increased likelihood of social isolation.  Read Reducing social isolation across the life-course (2015) by UCL Institute of Health Equality. 

A survey by Action for Children found that 43% of 17 – 25 year olds who used their service had experienced problems with loneliness, and that of this same group less than half said they felt loved.

Older people

The report Hidden Citizens (2015) by Campaign to End Loneliness looks at pathways into loneliness and the factors that contribute to it including internal and external factors.  How to identify the most lonely and/or isolated in communities and methods of informing them of activities etc.

Another Campaign to End Loneliness report explains how to identify people who are lonely using data sources, working with local communities and developing partnerships.  Methods of identification include Age UK Loneliness Heat Maps (see local information), Exeter data system (using NHS GP data) and Community Insight (maps and profiles developed by Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust).   Read The Missing Million: A practical guide to identifying and talking about loneliness (2016). 

Friends of the Elderly commissioned a report that focuses on the effect of several factors in contributing to or mitigating against loneliness and social isolation.  These include: ageing; gender and relationships; wealth and poverty; family life and inter-generational contact; using technology for social contact; social life and organisational membership and also housing independence and community connections. 

Severe loneliness is common among people aged over 75 – 1 in 5 are often feeling lonely, more than double the rate found in younger age groups. Read The Future of Lonelinessby by Friends of the Elderly.

Polling conducted by Independent Age found more than 1 in 3 people aged 75 and over say that feelings of loneliness are out of their control.

Certain factors can have an impact on loneliness and social isolation for older people.  These include: increasing age; health and wellbeing; caring responsibilities and housing. More information can be found in Reducing social isolation across the lifecourse (2015) by UCL Institute of Health Equality. 

The Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology reported very high rates of reported loneliness, ranging from 24% to 50% amongst for those elders originating from China, Africa, the Caribbean, Pakistan and Bangladesh whilst those from India approximated to the norms of 8–10% for Britain. Read Loneliness and Ethnic Minority Elders in Great Britain (2012).

On the Age UK website, Challenging the issues of loneliness, highlights several studies that have identified a range of factors associated with being lonely in older age. These factors include:

  • social networks (living alone, being widowed or divorced, a lack of contact with friends and family and limited opportunities to participate in social occasions)
  • health (poor health, limited mobility, social care needs or cognitive and sensory impairment)
  • individual characteristics (age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, low income, retirement)
  • neighbourhood characteristics (structures of buildings and streets, provision of local amenities, territorial boundaries, area reputation, neighbourliness, material deprivation of area of residence).

A paper by Age UK briefly reviews the literature on prevalence and predictors of loneliness in old age. The data and the statistical methods are described, followed by the local area level results. For more information read Predicting the prevalence of loneliness at older ages (January 2016).

Key Findings

  • Being in poor health was by far the biggest factor associated with chronic loneliness
  • The next most important were being widowed and living alone.
  • Some factors normally assumed to be associated with loneliness, such as area deprivation, poverty and living in a rural area, proved not to be significant.

A review of work done by Age UK since 2015 gives a preliminary evaluation of the Testing Promising Approaches to Reducing Loneliness pilot programme. Read No one should have No one: Working to end loneliness (2016).

Evidence Review: Loneliness in Later Life (2014) Age UK. Key statistics are referenced for their original source.  The review also includes: ways to measure loneliness; factors associated with loneliness in later life; the impact on older people; what interventions can reduce loneliness including group activities, one on one interventions, use of the internet and those aimed at special groups and challenges and barriers including finding lonely older people and their attitudes.

Key statistics (updated July 2014) from Evidence Review – references available in document:

  • Over 1 million older people say they are always or often feel lonely
  • Nearly half of older people (49% of 65+ UK) say that television or pets are their main form of company
  • Loneliness can be as harmful for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • People with a high degree of loneliness are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as people with a low degree of loneliness
  • 86% of over 65s say they are satisfied with their personal relationships. This is the lowest of all age groups.
  • Only 46% of over 65s said they spent time together with their family on most or every day, compared to 65-76% for other ages. 12% of over 65s said they never spent time with their family.
  • Over 65s also spent less time with friends: only 35% spent time with friends most or every day in the last 2 weeks, and 12% never did.
  • People who took part in more health-maintaining and independence-maintaining behaviours were less likely to feel isolated and more likely to feel that their community was a good one to grow old in.
  • Nearly half (49%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone
  • 9% of older people feel trapped in their own home
  • 6% of older people (nearly 600,000) leave their house once a week or less
  • 30% say they would like to go out more often
  • According to research for DWP, nearly a quarter (24%) of pensioners do not go out socially at least once a month
  • Nearly 200,000 older people in the UK do not receive the help they need to get out of their house or flat
  • 17% of older people have less than weekly contact with family, friends and neighbours
  • 11% have less than monthly contact
  • 41% of people aged 65 and over in the UK feel out of touch with the pace of modern life and 12% say they feel cut off from society

3 in 10 of those aged 80 and over report being lonely (Office of National Statistics, 2015).

Age UK looks at a wide range of factors that contribute to wellbeing for older people.  ‘The most striking finding is the importance of maintaining meaningful engagement with the world around you in later life.’ You can find more information in A summary of Age UK's Index of Wellbeing in Later Life (February 2017).

Unemployment

The loss of employment has been found to trigger social isolation and loneliness in some individuals due to income deprivation and reduction in daily social interactions. You can find out more in Reducing social isolation across the life-course (2015) by UCL Institute of Health Equality. 

A report on social networks produced by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA) found that 50% of unemployed people were socially isolated.

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