- Harry Hobson and Kalpa Kharicha
Severe Loneliness in London – who’s most at risk, and why?
This report we wrote for the GLA, about Loneliness in London, has just been released. https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/communities/loneliness-london Please take a look and of course contact us if you have any questions about it.
The main 3 findings in the report
We can see the 5 big “associative factors” that increase a person’s likelihood to feel severely lonely. Here they are:
Knowing these “big 5” associative factors enables Govermment and charities to target their resources towards the people who need it. There’s too much generalisation and lazy-thinking about loneliness, and this leads to misdirected efforts and wasted money, and (worst of all) people with serious needs going un-helped. This data-led approach should help us all to target better.
We got to this by doing regression-analyses and data-science with the GLA’s Survey of Londoners. In simple terms, we asked of the data “what else is going on in the lives of people who say they’re severely lonely?”
We have a clear definition of severe loneliness and offer a simple model of how it comes about in someone’s life.
The way we’ve defined it is: It’s when you face tough-times without enough supportive people around you.
We focused exclusively on Severe Loneliness. This is a very debilitating distressing feeling. About 8% of Londoners feel severely lonely. We deliberately didn’t focus on mild or everyday loneliness, which is experienced by half of Londoners and which doesn’t merit so much attention from policy-makers or charities.
Here is the report.
It also contains clear recommendations for how severe loneliness can be prevented.
And below is our Foreword from the report
At present, 700,000 Londoners are severely lonely: that’s around one in 12 of us. This widespread distress should serve as an alarm call for all Londoners, because from an evolutionary point of view, this is the job that loneliness does for us. Like thirst or hunger, it’s a pain that tells us to alter our behaviour or change our environment if we are to survive as a species. Dr John Cacioppo, the eminent psychologist, wrote: “Loneliness is not a pathology. It’s just an external signal from our body that something is going wrong with our environment.”
The key finding in this report is that severe loneliness is unequally distributed: it falls disproportionately amongst people who already have disadvantages, or for whom life is particularly difficult. This finding should not come as a surprise. Severe loneliness is the feeling that comes when you face tough times without enough supportive people around you. The more likely you are to face tough times (e.g., if you’re acutely poor or if you’re newly arrived to London), or the more likely you are to not have enough supportive people around you (e.g., if you’re single and live alone; have a disability that makes socialising hard; or feel excluded from the community around you), the more likely you will experience severe loneliness.
The data that drives this report was collected before the Covid-19 pandemic. Clearly the disease and the consequent measures alongside the fear of socialising have increased the incidence of severe loneliness and further exacerbated existing inequalities. The universal restrictions on social contact have served to shine a light on the meaningful relationships we all need with people and place in order to thrive.
Seeing how unequally distributed severe loneliness is, and how painful it is for people whose lives are already difficult, is an urgent signal that the way we’re living together is not working well enough for all of us, and requires repair. There are lots of practical ways to bring us closer together; London’s local authorities, and voluntary and community organisations, are already doing excellent work to tackle loneliness. What this report contributes is a fresh look at the data to direct policymakers to better target their response to the people who are most at risk.
Our organisations Neighbourly Lab and the Campaign to End Loneliness are committed to continuing to work with the London Boroughs, the GLA, voluntary and community organisations and funders to build on these empirical foundations to reduce the inequitable impact of severe loneliness in London. Thank you for reading this and please get in touch with questions, additions and ideas.