accessibility & help

Loneliness and isolation: what we know

Loneliness and social isolation form a hidden epidemic here in the UK that is negatively impacting on people’s health and wellbeing.

Studies have shown loneliness to be as damaging to health as smoking and obesity. It’s also putting unnecessary, additional pressure on our hard-pressed public services.

Every day our staff and volunteers see first-hand the damaging effects loneliness and social isolation have on people, many of whom are already in crisis. Many live alone and struggle with day-to-day tasks.

But a new study, commissioned by the British Red Cross in partnership with Co-op, means we know more about these issues than ever before – and how to help.

We know

  • Over nine million people in the UK (almost one fifth of the population) report they are always or often lonely.

  • Loneliness does not just affect older people. Many other groups in society, from young mums to those recently bereaved, had experienced feelings of loneliness and isolation.

  • Life transitions can be key triggers for feeling lonely, from retirement to divorce or separation.

Without the right support, loneliness can transition from a temporary situation to a chronic issue and can contribute to poor health and pressure on public services.  

What is clear is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to tackling these issues. Different people need different kinds of support.

Key recommendations

To truly tackle these issues our research found that a mix of activities are needed:

  • to prevent loneliness when people are at risk

  • to respond to people experiencing lower levels of loneliness including around moments of transition in their lives

  • to restore people’s confidence and sense of connection when they have felt lonely over a longer period of time.

Expanding and investing in preventative services across the life course and before, during and after somebody starts to experience loneliness could make the world of difference both to people facing loneliness and the health and care sector.

Eight principles of best practice for services that help people reconnect with their communities have also been identified.

Services should:

  • give a sense of purpose

  • be peer-led or co-designed with people in similar circumstances

  • be local and easy to access

  • be free or affordable

  • instil a positive sense of identity

  • provide clear goals and pathways to reconnection

  • provide benefits to others (such as through volunteering)

  • bring people together around shared interests.

Our response has been founded on these principles.

Working together

We know we can’t tackle loneliness and social isolation on our own. That’s why we are working in partnership with others to ensure long-term, sustainable solutions.



Related documents

Escaping the bubble: Working together to tackle loneliness and social isolation across the UK

A summary of our research and how the British Red Cross and Co-op are working together to tackle loneliness and social isolation. Read the report

Isolation and loneliness: An overview of the literature

We reviewed more than 100 pieces of research from the past 40 years to find out what we know about being  lonely and isolated in the UK – and where there are gaps in our knowledge. Read the report

The crises facing our Independent Living Service users

We spoke to frontline staff, volunteers, and people using our services and identified loneliness and social isolation as a crisis we cannot ignore. Read the report

A study of signposting at the British Red Cross

We’ve looked at existing services and identified best practice in ensuring people in crisis are helped to access the right support. Read the report

Trapped in a bubble: Technical Appendix