19 June 2019

People from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are more likely to feel lonely, report suggests

A British Red Cross support worker with a Connecting Communities service user.

Research published today reveals that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds may be more vulnerable to loneliness and face greater barriers in accessing help to overcome it. 
To mark Loneliness Awareness Week (June 17-21), the British Red Cross and Co-op have published their Barriers to Belonging report, working with the Centre for Loneliness Studies at the University of Sheffield and the Runnymede Trust, which is a race equality think tank. 

This research looks in particular at the experiences of loneliness among people from BAME communities in the UK – an area previously underexplored. 

Barriers to Belonging key findings: 

  • The new research reveals that people who feel like they ‘belong’ to their community – who feel valued, included, safe and able to join in community activities – are less likely to feel lonely 
  • However, people from BAME backgrounds face multiple challenges that may mean they may be more likely to experience loneliness. 

These include: 

  • Increased likelihood of discrimination and fear of stigma, which can impact on their sense of belonging 
  • Greater barriers to accessing help for loneliness and joining in community activities, including a lack of money and time 
  • Some cultures may also attach increased stigma to talking about feelings and causes of loneliness – such as mental health issues – making it potentially harder for people in some BAME communities to open up and seek help

This is the latest research into loneliness published by British Red Cross and Co-op, and builds on the landmark report Trapped in a Bubble, which found that more than 9 million adults across the UK are always or often lonely.

Off the back of the findings, the British Red Cross and Co-op are calling for a Government commitment to spending on services to combat loneliness – and for greater inclusivity and diversity from those providing these services. 

Paul Amadi, Chief Supporter Officer and executive sponsor for inclusion and diversity at the British Red Cross, said: 

“We all need to ask if we’re doing enough to make our institutions, services and workplaces as inclusive, diverse and welcoming to people of all backgrounds as they can be.

“And we need the Government to make a commitment to spending on services and activities to help combat loneliness and improve people’s health and wellbeing – reaching those most in need, irrespective of race, culture, geography or income.

“If those from BAME backgrounds are at a greater risk of loneliness, any initiative to connect people with each other needs to be designed with that in mind. 

“No one should feel isolated or unable to make friends and meaningful connections with others because they feel excluded by their ethnicity, or anything else. 

“Whether in the workplace or the community, let’s make sure everyone feels comfortable and confident getting support.

“We can all play a part in that by reaching out to those who may feel marginalised because, as we know, kindness is the glue that holds our communities together.”

Ruwaida Adam Mohammed, Co-chair of the Co-op’s BAME Rise network and a project officer in the food team, said: 

“As this research shows, people from BAME communities can often face specific issues that can cause them to feel lonely and we need to fully understand those if we are to help.

“I know from my own community that, culturally, we can tend not to speak up about some of these issues and that people sometimes suffer loneliness and social isolation in silence.

“It can be seen as taboo to suggest that we could possibly be lonely, especially where we live together in big family units, and we need to address that stigma so that people can talk more openly about their feelings.”

Research findings in more depth 
The research brings together in-depth interviews with more than 60 people from both White British and BAME communities including Chinese, Iranian, Pakistani and Irish Traveller backgrounds who were experiencing loneliness, a survey of almost 1,000 participants and 40 interviews with service providers. 
The key findings are outlined below. 

When we feel we belong, we feel less alone
The research finds that belonging to our community – by feeling valued, included, safe and able to join in community activities – helps to tackle loneliness. Sixty-seven per cent of respondents who felt they didn’t belong in their community said they were ‘always of often’ lonely compared to just 16 per cent who felt they did belong.

Feeling a sense of belonging with our friends and family and being able to open up and ask for help - and feeling accepted and able to talk about loneliness - also helps to tackle loneliness. 

Only 18% of people who said they could talk to family and friends about loneliness said they felt lonely. By comparison, for those who said they didn’t know what to do if they were lonely, the figure was 63% 

Of those who said they were ‘very dissatisfied’ with their family relationships, 73% reported being often or always lonely, compared to just 11% of those who were ‘very satisfied’ with their relationships.

Discrimination and fear of stigma increases loneliness
The report shines a spotlight on additional triggers of loneliness that have, to date, been overlooked, such as racism, discrimination and xenophobia.

The research shows that almost half of people (49%) who have experienced discrimination at work or in their local neighbourhood reported being often or always lonely, compared to just over a quarter (28%) of people who hadn’t. 

The findings indicate that people from BAME backgrounds are more likely to have experienced these challenges. For example, just 31% of African respondents had not experienced any type of discrimination, compared to 74% of white British respondents.

People from BAME backgrounds fell less able to access community activities and support 
The research found that all minority ethnic groups were more likely than the white British groups to report ‘not having enough free time’ and ‘affordability’ as barriers to participating in activities or accessing services that might help to tackle loneliness. 

There were attitudinal barriers too, with ‘lack of confidence’ and ‘not feeling welcome’ the two most common for all ethnic groups. White British respondents were far less likely to feel unwelcome, or as though a service is not for them. 

At the most extreme, some interviewees reported experiencing racist or anti-immigrant attitudes when attempting to participate in groups, activities and services. 

Loneliness and stigma
Almost 60% of all interviewees admitted they didn’t feel confident talking about loneliness, with a third more saying they’d never admit to feeling lonely.

Large proportions of all ethnic groups in the survey worried what people would think if they told them they were lonely. Levels were a little lower for the white British (60 per cent), black Caribbean (55 per cent) and black African (48 per cent) groups, while 76 per cent of the ‘other BAME’ group and 70 per cent of the Pakistani group said they would worry what others thought about their feelings of loneliness.

To download a full copy of Barriers to Belonging, click here Barriers to Belonging 
For more information please contact Paul Scott on 0207 877 7618 or 07834 525650 or email paulscott@redcross.org.uk
Case studies available on request 


Notes to editors

  • Research was commissioned by British Red Cross and Co-op and conducted by the Centre for Loneliness Studies at the University of Sheffield and the Runnymede Trust, a race equality think tank. It draws on a quantitative survey of almost 1,000 participants (69% of respondents who disclosed their ethnicity were from BAME backgrounds), undertaken between November 2018 and January 2019, as well as in-depth interviews and focus groups with more than 60 people from both BAME and White British backgrounds who were experiencing loneliness, and an additional 40 interviews with service providers, carried out between September 2018 and February 2019.
  • The British Red Cross and Co-op have been working in partnership to tackle loneliness since 2015. 
  • Over the last two years more than 9,000 people have received intensive, one-to-one support to tackle loneliness through the partnership’s Connecting Communities service which runs throughout the UK. Three quarters of people using the social prescribing-style service rated themselves less lonely following its help. 
  • The partnership has also published extensive research into loneliness, including shared learning reports highlighting best practice approaches to social prescribing for loneliness and the ground-breaking Trapped In A Bubble research. 

About British Red Cross
The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies. We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on with their lives. We believe in the power of kindness. That’s why we connect those who’ve got kindness to share, to those who need it most, every day. Find out more at; www.redcross.org.uk.

About the Co-op

The Co-op is one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives with interests across food, funerals, insurance, and legal services. It has a clear purpose of championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities. Owned by millions of UK consumers, the Co-op operates 2,600 food stores, over 1,000 funeral homes and it provides products to over 5,100 other stores, including those run by independent co-operative societies and through its wholesale business, Nisa Retail Limited. It has more than 63,000 colleagues and an annual revenue of £9.5bn. www.coop.co.uk.