“We must put the needs of those who are loneliest first”
By Zoe Abrams, executive director of communications and advocacy, British Red Cross
Wherever an emergency strikes – whether a pandemic, a flood or even a conflict – what we see time and again is people rallying to support each other and prioritising those who need help most.
The community spirit and compassion with which people are responding to COVID-19 – both here in the UK and around the world – is hugely encouraging.
We have sprung into action, made connections with neighbours and supported the most vulnerable in our communities through simple but kind things like shopping, collecting prescriptions and just being there for a chat.
Many have gone from not knowing their neighbours’ names to speaking with them over the garden fence, and gathering together on doorsteps to clap for our carers.
Some of those connections, forged in crisis, will last a lifetime and make a difference for many.
But this doesn’t tell the whole story.
Feeling lonelier than ever as the nation reconnects
We are at a point when we’re being slowly allowed to reconnect with others and, while people continue to inspire us with acts of kindness, the sad truth is some are feeling left behind and lonelier than ever.
The British Red Cross has published a report, Life after Lockdown, which shows that 41 per cent of UK adults surveyed feel lonelier since lockdown began, with 33 per cent saying they haven’t had a meaningful conversation in the last week.
More than a third of people (37 per cent) say their neighbours are like strangers to them and 31 per cent of adults feel they have no one to turn to.
FORTY-ONE PER CENT OF UK ADULTS FEEL LONELIER SINCE LOCKDOWN BEGAN.
Our findings become even more concerning when you look at who tells us they are loneliest of all, including people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, those living with health conditions and people on lower income.
Those with limited access to tech and the internet, parents with young children, and young people also report feeling often or always lonely.
Ensuring no one is left behind as we adjust to life after lockdown
At a time when many are coming together to protest against racism and the devastating impact it has on people’s lives, our report shows that those from BAME backgrounds feel so disconnected that more than half (52 per cent) see their neighbours as strangers.
That compares to 37 per cent of the population as a whole.
Given 41 per cent of BAME adults also fear their loneliness will become worse, now is the time to reach out again, to continue to intentionally come together in our communities, and to forge those strong bonds that are the very building blocks of a connected society.
SOME PEOPLE MAY BECOME SO LONELY THAT IT IMPACTS ON THEIR HEALTH AND WELLBEING.
We know from past research that people from BAME communities and the other groups highlighted in our report were lonely before COVID-19 and we know they fear they’ll be lonelier after it.
Some people may become so lonely that it impacts on their health and wellbeing – and their ability to recover from this crisis.
So, how do we build on the good work being done to ensure that no one is left adrift as we adjust to life after lockdown?
Helping people stay in touch with technology
Often the people we support at the British Red Cross tell us they have no one else. They’re vulnerable – they might have long-term health conditions, mental health issues, a difficult time paying the bills; they are sometimes refugees or people seeking asylum.
The Red Cross knows, through experience, what matters most – one-to-one conversations, contact with a loved one. Help overcoming practical obstacles are important too – such as having phone data, being able to access the internet, and knowing how to use that technology in the first place.
Just this week we were awarded £610,000 by the Government to support young people, people in BAME communities, refugees and those with health issues to get online, and to introduce the up-to-now digitally-excluded to the tools that can help them connect.
We’ve given phones, tablets and data bundles to refugees so they can access the internet and get in touch with loved ones at this stressful time and we’re identifying the most vulnerable and assisting them through our hardship fund.
But the British Red Cross can do more, starting with those new Connecting Communities schemes that will begin in Durham, Barking and Dagenham, Stockport and Plymouth this year.
Everyone has a part to play in combating loneliness
That Government funding, as part of a wider £5m push to tackle loneliness, is a great start – and still more investment will be needed in future for connectedness schemes that bolster communities and help people become more resilient.
That includes building on the NHS social prescriber scheme that puts people in touch with groups, activities and organisations that support them to become more active, connected and healthy.
Prioritisation is key and we must put the needs of those who are telling us they are loneliest first, and focus on tackling the root causes of isolation and health inequalities that today’s crisis is exacerbating.
And of course each of us has a part to play individually too – to reach out to those who may be lonely and to recognise if we too could use some help.
There may be some light at the end of the tunnel but too many aren’t seeing it yet – together we can change that to make sure no one is left behind.
executive director of communications and advocacy, British Red Cross
Loneliness in the UK
Around nine million people in the UK say they feel lonely, and that’s why we’re on a mission to help people feel connected to others. Join us as we work to tackle loneliness by considering a donation.Donate