The inequalities of loneliness

Does loneliness affect some groups of society more than others in a way that can be dealt with by reducing structural inequality?

A Wales Centre for Public Policy review into loneliness inequalities, conducted by some of the UK’s leading scholars in the field, is set to highlight some key societal factors that lead to loneliness inequalities.

Significantly, this departure from viewing loneliness as an individual problem to be treated by interventions such as befriending services or behavioural therapy suggests that loneliness could be improved by policy changes that reduce inequalities.

While loneliness is something anyone can experience, it is now clear that it doesn’t affect all groups of society equally. Indeed, research evidence shows overwhelmingly that some groups are more likely to experience loneliness than others.

WCPP’s Josh Coles-Riley has published a blog It’s time to talk about loneliness inequalities’ to coincide with Loneliness Week and ahead of the publication of the Loneliness Inequalities review next month. He said, “The report establishes inequalities in loneliness as a major form of injustice in their own right – showing that loneliness disproportionately affects groups already marginalised in society, with long-term consequences for their health and wellbeing.

“We are really pleased to be publishing a review that for the first time brings together international evidence on loneliness inequalities and sheds new light on the wider societal and structural factors that underpin these.

“We look forward to starting a conversation with academic and lived experience experts, policymakers and practitioners about what changes to policy and practice may be needed to tackle this.”

As the blog highlights, we now know that when individuals face multiple disadvantages, loneliness increases significantly. For example, 23% of 16-24 year olds reported being lonely*, this rose to 42% among those with a long-term illness or disability. Similarly, while 23% of people in fair health reported being lonely (compared to just 8.8% of people in very good health), people in fair health who identified as white (Welsh, English, British) reported lower levels of loneliness (22.4%) than their counterparts in ‘white other’ and all other minority ethnic groups (37.5%).

The review

The Loneliness Inequalities review, written by Professor Manuela Barreto, Professor Pam Qualter and Dr David Doyle and due to be published next month, summarises evidence from the UK and around the world about which groups in society disproportionately experience loneliness, including racially minoritised and LGBT+ groups, migrants, disabled people, those in poor physical or mental health, carers, unemployed people, and people living in poverty.

It brings together new international evidence on the wider societal and structural factors which may contribute to loneliness inequalities – helping to explain why marginalised groups are disproportionately affected.

Next steps

Following the publication of the report, WCPP will hold a discussion event to hear the perspectives and insights of practitioners and lived experience experts in order to take the conversation to the next level and suggest some potential policy changes that could help tackle loneliness inequalities. Please email to register interest in being part of this event.

*National Survey for Wales