The Reconceptualising Loneliness in London report was produced by Neighbourly Lab, the Campaign to End Loneliness and the What Works Centre for Wellbeing. It was commissioned by the Greater London Authority to explore the unique experience of loneliness across the capital.
Loneliness can be hard to identify in our communities and is often hidden amongst people who are less regularly part of public and communal life. We know that if policymakers and practitioners can understand how and why loneliness is experienced, then they can work to prevent, reduce and alleviate it.
This research looked at the structural factors that contribute to loneliness in London and found:
- Londoners are more likely than others in the UK to be affected by severe forms of loneliness, with 700,000 of them feeling lonely ‘most’ or ‘all of the time’.
- Loneliness is felt unequally in London. While overall 8% experienced severe loneliness, this is:
- 12% for young Londoners;
- 18% for low-income Londoners;
- 15% for LGBTQ+ Londoners;
- 12% for single parents;
- 18% for Deaf and Disabled Londoners;
- 14% for some ethnic minority groups.
There were also five key associative factors that can explain what is driving the most severe loneliness:
- Being acutely poor.
- Being single or living alone.
- Being Deaf or disabled.
- Going through life changes or being new in London.
- Feeling different or experiencing prejudice.
The researchers identified two qualities that are required to prevent loneliness, and two factors that can protect against severe loneliness. The two required qualities are:
- Social connectedness: having enough high-quality connection with other people.
- Sense of belonging: feeling you fit into the world around you, so you feel purposeful and optimistic.
The two protective shields are:
- Support network: access to people who you are close to and on whom you can depend.
- Psychological resilience: a way of seeing the world that enables you to cope with setbacks.
If these qualities are inadequate, and the protective shields are weakened, people are more likely to experience severe loneliness.
What works to alleviate loneliness?
At the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, we have been building the evidence base on what works to reduce loneliness across the lifecourse.
In 2018 we carried out a high-quality evidence review which looked at the effectiveness of interventions to alleviate loneliness in people of all ages. Across all of the interventions that had an effect on reducing loneliness, we found these important mechanisms:
- No one-size-fits all approach to alleviating loneliness.
- Tailoring interventions based on the needs of the people they are designed for.
- Supporting people to form meaningful relationships.
- Developing approaches that reduce stigma.
Evidence gaps and data needs
Our role at the What Works Centre for Wellbeing is to partner with others to fill knowledge gaps. Together with the Tackling Loneliness team at DCMS, our partner organisation the Campaign to End Loneliness and other loneliness researchers, we have been working to update what we know collectively. The Tackling loneliness expert-led evidence review looked at where we are on the gaps and what we need to know next to inform action. We have logged these evidence gaps in loneliness, across different domains in a live table that will be updated as the evidence base grows. Do let us know if you’re working on or funding work in these areas so we can update our collective learning.
Loneliness and young people
One of these gaps is in the data around the causes, outcomes and interventions concerning young people and loneliness, despite this being the group that is reporting the highest levels of loneliness in the UK.
To contribute to the collective understanding around loneliness and wellbeing in young people, a new research project, led by the University of Glasgow with the University of Manchester uses the social-ecological framework to explore risk factors at individual, social, and community and geographic levels and the relationships between them. It looks at adolescents aged 11-15 and young adults aged 16-24.
Through this work, we aim to:
- Identify risk and protective factors for loneliness in young people.
- Examine mental health and loneliness in Scottish schools.
- Examine links between loneliness, mental health and wellbeing.
- Determine trajectories of loneliness during Covid-19.