by Allana Grant
4 months ago
Shocking new research reveals that almost half of working age disabled people experience chronic loneliness
Slade and Wizard blaring out from every other shop you pass on the high street, office parties galore and endless television adverts portraying a vision of a perfect family Christmas. These days, it seems as if there is a lot of pressure on us to be happy and to enjoy ourselves during the festive season. The reality for many of the estimated 13.3 million people in the UK, who live with a disability however, is that they experience increased feelings of loneliness and unhappiness at this time of year.
New Scope research uncovers an epidemic of chronic loneliness
The results of recent research carried out by the UK’s leading disability charity Scope has lifted the lid on the chronic loneliness all too often experienced by disabled people; especially those of working age. The charity conducted an on-line Opinium poll of 1,004 disabled UK adults; the results of which found that a staggering 67% of disabled people reported experiencing feelings of loneliness on at least one occasion in the past year. This figure increased markedly to 76% for those of working age; with 45% of this group of respondents going as far as to say that they are chronically lonely: in other words, they report experiencing feelings of loneliness always or often. This represents a worrying trend indeed, but you can only truly grasp the extent of the problem once you extrapolate these figures to the general population. Our 45% then equates to 3 million working age disabled people across the whole of the UK.
Of even more concern however, is that more than half of those who identify as being chronically lonely claimed to have experienced depression, anxiety, or stress as a result.
Speaking about the survey’s findings, CEO of scope, Mark Atkinson said:
“Our new research has exposed the hidden reality of many disabled people’s lives. It’s scandalous that nearly half of disabled adults experience chronic loneliness, and the vast majority of young disabled adults are lonely.”
Why do so many disabled people feel lonely?
There are a number of economic and social factors which contribute to such high levels of loneliness amongst the disabled population. Not least, the increased living costs which many incur as a matter of course in their daily lives; making socialising and visiting friends or relatives more difficult. In addition to which, underfunding in the social care system means that many disabled people do not receive even basic support and therefore, simply cannot afford the lifestyle they would otherwise choose for themselves.
On a more physical level, poor access to services, public transport and buildings often result in disabled people being unable to participate in activities or social events in the same way as their non-disabled peers. This can make friendships difficult to maintain and in the end leads to people feeling excluded from society.
Social attitudes can also prove to be a significant barrier to disabled people interacting with their local communities. Many people, upon meeting a disabled person, still act awkwardly around them; struggling to see past an impairment or condition to the capable intelligent person who does not want to be defined by their disability. One in four people have admitted to avoiding conversations with disabled people because they worry about causing offence or don’t know what to say.
Combatting the loneliness epidemic.
So just how do we go about combatting the growing isolation and loneliness in the UK’s disabled community? Mark Atkinson believes that some of the answers at least lie with Theresa May’s government, saying:
“We urge the government to develop a cross-departmental disability strategy. They need to ensure that the investment we make in social care and benefits provides a decent standard of living for disabled people, rather than allowing loneliness and isolation to thrive.”
In the days following the publication of the results of the survey, Scope, for their part, launched their ‘What I need to Say’ campaign. Sharing first-hand accounts from members of the Scope community, the campaign highlights the isolation that millions of disabled people habitually face. By doing just that, Scope hopes in the long-term to effect social change and to ensure that disabled people are fully included in society, in local communities, both at home and in schools and in cultural life.
In the short term however, the focus of the campaign is very much on raising enough funds to support the anticipated 4 thousand people plus who will call their helpline for advice or to hear a friendly understanding voice this Christmas. For those disabled people, or families of disabled children, who turn to Scope, Christmas is something to dread. Far from having a packed social calendar, overindulging and being surrounded by friends and family; it is the time when they feel loneliest.
Reflecting on the value of a resource like the helpline service, Mark Atkinson said:
“We know from the emotional support, advice and information we provide to disabled people and their families how important it is to feel connected, and be part of society.”
For this reason, the Scope team is urging us all to ensure that vulnerable people, who feel they have nowhere else to turn, receive the support they need. You can do so by getting involved with the campaign; whether it be making a donation, spreading the message about the loneliness epidemic or simply giving someone you know a call to see how they are doing. To find out more visit: https://christmas.scope.org.uk/whatineedtosay/