We conducted a survey in association with the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, and the results reveal worrying findings when it comes to the older generation. Over half (56%) of Gransnet users who are lonely say they have never spoken about their loneliness to anyone, with the vast majority of that number saying their close friends and family would be quite surprised, or even astonished, to hear they feel lonely.
Published today to mark the launch of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness: spotlight on older people, the survey also reveals that 93% of Gransnet users admit it's possible to feel lonely even when you have a partner or family, with 82% agreeing that talking about feelings of loneliness is much easier when they are online and anonymous.
As part of the Commission's spotlight on older people, nine organisations from across the age sector – Age UK, Alzheimer's Society, British Red Cross, Campaign to End Loneliness, Eden Project Communities, Gransnet, Independent Age, Royal Voluntary Service and The Silver Line – are working collaboratively to raise public awareness of loneliness and encourage everyone to act to tackle it. With Age UK research showing that 1.2 million older people are chronically lonely, and that half a million people over 60 usually spend every day alone, there is clearly an urgent need for action.
According to the Red Cross, a worrying 45% of people aged 65 and over wouldn't know where to turn if they're experiencing loneliness. While loneliness can strike at any age, older people are at higher risk of being lonely as they are more likely to experience deteriorating health and the death of a loved one. Disability, poor health, poverty and limited access to transport all contribute to older people feeling cut off from their family, friends and local communities, meaning many older people have little or no social interaction. The closures of bank branches, post offices, small shops and libraries, particularly in rural areas, can be devastating for many older people who rely on them for social contact, exacerbating their feelings of being forgotten and lonely.
De Rosemary Leonard, MBE, said: "Working as a GP, I can't help but notice on a daily basis how widespread a problem loneliness is. The figures from the Gransnet survey, showing that 73% say they are lonely some or all the time, yet over half have not spoken to anyone about it, sadly do not surprise me, as I am aware that many patients come to see me, not because they have a medical problem, but because they are desperate to talk to someone. It would be so much better if more people were aware and made use of the great number of befriending services, helplines and online communities offered by various organisations, aimed at helping people who are on their own. Raising awareness of the extent of the problem, and challenging the stigma of loneliness is a crucial step and I'm so pleased to see the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, and all the partner organisations, encouraging us all to do just that. We should all be #happytochat."
The cross-party Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, launched earlier this year in Parliament, is supported by thirteen organisations and aims to not just raise awareness of the problem but to act as a 'call to action'. Under the slogan 'Start a Conversation', the Commission wants to mobilise the public to help themselves and others around them – educating people on how they can become part of the solution – whether through talking to a neighbour, visiting an old friend, or just making time for people they meet.
Passionate about tackling loneliness, Jo Cox set up the Commission before her murder in June 2016. In her memory the avowedly cross-party Commission is being taken forward by MPs Rachel Reeves (Labour) and Seema Kennedy (Conservative), supported by Jo’s family.
Co-chairs of the Commission, Rachel Reeves and Seema Kennedy, said: "Loneliness is a silent epidemic across the UK. Now is the time to break that silence by starting a conversation. We need a national conversation about the scale and impact of the problem. But just as importantly, every single one of us can start a conversation with somebody that will help break the cycle of silent suffering and unintentional neglect."
Lara Crisp, Gransnet Editor, said: "We know from our forums what an enormous difference it makes for people to know that there is always someone out there they can turn to, whether it's for support, advice or just a chat about nothing in particular. We are delighted to partner with the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness to help ensure that everybody who wants or needs it has someone they can talk to online at any hour of the day or night."
People can help by making time for older relatives and checking in on older friends and neighbours who they know. In addition, the organisations are asking their supporters and followers to post #happytochat on their Twitter and Facebook status to create online chatter around loneliness and encourage people across all generations to be aware of the loneliness that can often be found – but only behind closed doors.
Anyone who wants to find out more about the Commission or how they can get involved in tackling loneliness in their community can visit www.jocoxloneliness.org for further information. Find the full breakdown of the survey results here.