Time for action

Fourteen per cent of children aged ten to 12 are ‘often lonely’, according to the first ever figures on child loneliness.

For the first time, the Office for National Statistics measured loneliness in children and young people, aged 10 to 24, and some of the findings were quite striking.

Children who lived in a city were nearly four times more likely than other children to report feeling lonely, with almost 20 per cent reporting that they were ‘often lonely’. Children who lived in a town (5.4 per cent), or children who lived in a village, hamlet, or an isolated rural location (5.7 per cent), were far less often lonely in comparison.

Children aged ten to 12, starting secondary school and facing the challenges of making new friends and, in many cases, joining social media for the first time, were also surprisingly likely to feel lonely often, with more than 14 per cent reporting that they were lonely often. This fell to nine per cent amongst 13 to 15-year olds.

One boy, quoted in the report, highlighted the potentially negative impact social media can have on children. He said:

“Cyberbullying is a big problem in my school at the moment.

“There’s been a boy who’s just had it all thrown at him. And he just is alone all the time.”

A loneliness gap emerged amongst children too, with more than a quarter of children who receive free school meals reporting they often feel lonely. This is a rate five times higher than that of children who do not receive them.

Young men, aged 16 to 24, were more likely than young women to say that they hardly ever or never felt lonely, with nearly half of men reporting that they hardly ever or never felt lonely, compared with 32.4 per cent of women who said the same.

There was no significant difference in the percentage of young men and women reporting that they often or always felt lonely; over 9 per cent of men and over 10 per cent of women reported that they often or always felt lonely.

Young people aged 16, who may have left school, were significantly less likely to report often feeling lonely than those aged over 18. The highest reported proportion of young people who “often or always” felt lonely was for 18- and 21-year-olds, those most likely to have transitioned into university, and then transitioned into work, which are both major life changes.

Young people without a long-term illness or disability were more likely to report lower levels of loneliness, with 44.8 per cent reporting that they hardly ever or never felt lonely. In contrast, only one in five, 19.3 per cent, of those with a long-term illness or disability reported hardly ever or never feeling lonely.

These figures, the first of their kind from the Government, highlight the scale of the challenge faced in combatting loneliness. The research follows on from the Government’s Loneliness Strategy, which Prime Minister Theresa May launched in October 2018.

Richard Crellin, Policy Manager at the Children’s Society, which was involved with the research, said: “We’ve been getting a much better understanding of loneliness over the last year.

“It’s really bleak, it’s quite heartbreaking to think of children being lonely. Loneliness is something we all feel at some time of our life, however, if a lot of children are feeling lonely a lot of the time, we can’t sit back and do nothing, it can be really damaging for them.

“When young people are feeling isolated it could be hurting their mental health or they can even be vulnerable to things like grooming.”

Many of the projects People’s Health Trust funds work to bring people together and support them to build strong social connections.

In fact, a recent independent survey conducted as part of an evaluation of the Trust’s Active Communities programme shows that 93% of project leads indicated that increased friendships and social connectedness had been achieved through their projects, and 91% supported reduced social isolation for their members.

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