Our new report suggests that loneliness is driven by feelings of disconnection from civic life rather than distance from people, with urban residents most likely to feel lonely. It says charities are reporting increased demand for support.
In our latest Oxfordshire Needs Analysis report, focused on mental health, we argue that the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns are in danger of creating an epidemic of loneliness across the county. The report highlights that around 6,000 people across Oxfordshire are claiming Personal Independence Payments as a result of mental health struggles, and this evidence is likely to be hiding a much larger issue, during a crisis that demands self-isolation and social distancing.
The report also reveals that 30,000 pensioners in Oxfordshire live alone, and that the majority of areas across the county are more isolated than average from services such as supermarkets, GP surgeries and Post Offices. In addition to those who were seriously affected by these issues previously, many more individuals are becoming isolated and experiencing loneliness during the pandemic, at a time when access to statutory or charitable support services has become more challenging. Apart from dedicated mental health services, lockdowns have closed or restricted access to so many other facilities that are essential to many peoples’ mental health: places of worship, hospitality and leisure venues, and community centres.
Census data is used to predict the probability of loneliness for those aged 65 and over, which shows that older people are most likely to feel lonely in urban centres, singling out towns such as Banbury, Didcot, Wantage and Witney. People in these areas were more likely to have barriers to participation and engagement in civic and community activity before the pandemic, and are likely to be more cut off from shared experiences since COVID-19 hit.
One group funded, Abingdon Damascus Youth Project, works with those for whom social isolation and loneliness has become even more intense in this pandemic. Young people, supported by youth workers, safely delivered care packs to elderly residents. One recipient is quoted as saying: “This is so lovely; I haven’t seen anyone in weeks, and this has made my day.” Another elderly gentleman said, “This is the first time I have got dressed in four months.” Their exploratory start was so encouraging that the young people wished to support every elderly citizen in their communities, and set up regular ‘doorstep bingo’ sessions during lockdown.
Adrian Sell, Chief Executive at OCF, says: “At the start of the pandemic there were so many brilliant, responsive projects started to help our most vulnerable residents across the county, delivered by adaptable, competent and resilient organisations. The voluntary sector pulled together to develop online initiatives and socially distant contact, keeping many from falling into despair, and some people discovered the possibilities that digital forms of communication open up for the first time.”
Anyone interested in the issues of loneliness and mental health is welcome to join OCF’s online webinar on the topic on Wednesday 27th January at 2pm. Speakers from the Campaign to End Loneliness, Abingdon Damascus Youth Project (as featured above), and Cherwell District Council will look at how the community can pull together to tackle this issue.