Loneliness is a taboo subject for many says the Co-op

October 26, 2015

Loneliness is a taboo subject in the UK according to new research issued today (Monday 26 October) by The Co-operative Group. The research indicates that millions find it difficult to admit they feel lonely, even though loneliness can have a detrimental impact on a person’s health and wellbeing.

The survey shows that two thirds (61 percent) of people would be uncomfortable confiding in a friend or family member that they feel lonely and that most people are more comfortable talking about death, money or body image than admitting to being lonely.

Loneliness appears to carry the same social discomfort associated until recently with mental health. The survey also shows that people are far more likely to spot loneliness in others than in themselves. For example: 

  • 3 in 10 people stated they know someone in their community who appears lonely.
  • Just 1 in 10 people felt that it is something which affects them regularly.
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The research has been carried out after Co-op members voted to tackle the issue of loneliness and isolation in partnership with the British Red Cross. As a national organisation that is rooted in local communities, the Co-op is ideally placed to help address an issue which requires both national debate and local solutions. 

Co-operative Charity Partnership supporting the Bristish Red CrossWith the social fabric of the UK continuing to change rapidly through people living longer, the increase in single occupancy households, high divorce rates (with over a third (34%) of marriages ending before the 20th wedding anniversary*), greater workforce mobility and the rise of social media, it is highly likely that many people will face loneliness at some point in their lives. Despite this the research illustrates that many people are not prepared to acknowledge the issue in themselves, and therefore may not have the coping strategies in place to deal with it.          

Loneliness is reported as being twice as bad for health as being obese** and can trigger a sense of despair accompanied by mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Speaking at the roll out of the national fundraising effort, Group Chief Executive Richard Pennycook said:

“Loneliness is one of our biggest social issues, but gets little public attention. Our members overwhelmingly chose it as our campaign issue this year, illustrating how pervasive it is. From young people struggling to find their identity, to single parents bringing up kids, to carers coping with dementia, to the elderly left on their own, it does not discriminate.

In partnership with the British Red Cross, we intend to highlight the impact loneliness has on people’s lives, whilst raising millions of pounds to help tackle it. Our Purpose is ‘to champion a better way of doing business for you and your community’, and I feel sure that tackling this issue will strengthen all the communities where we work.”

British Red Cross Chief Executive, Mike Adamson, said:

“Loneliness is a big issue for many of the people the British Red Cross help. We know that a large proportion of them are living alone and can very quickly become lonely. Our support at home services improve the lives of thousands of people across the UK, which is why we are so excited to be working in partnership with the Co-op to raise awareness of this issue and help transform the lives of many more people.”

For further information please contact:

Chris Sonne 07770 544721
Russ Brady 07880 784442

Notes to Editors

Between 22 June and 12 July this year, 78,000 members and colleagues of The Co-operative Group voted to decide the issue and charity partner the Group would support over the next two years. Prior to the vote the Group engaged with thousands of its members and employees through the Co-operative’s Let’s Talk website, seeking their views and ideas to help identify issues that mattered to them. The Group identified potential charities that could work with it to champion and campaign on those issues at a local and national level.

The Co-operative Group

The Co-operative Group, one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives, with interests across food, funerals, insurance, electrical and legal services, has a clear purpose of championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities. Owned by millions of UK consumers, The Co-operative Group operates a total of 3,750 outlets, with more than 70,000 employees and an annual turnover of approximately £10 billion.

The British Red Cross

Each year, the British Red Cross helps over 1 million people in the UK. They have a presence in all UK communities providing unquestioning care and support to people in their darkest hour; from an older person living alone who is unable to cope to a young mother who is left housebound and isolated after an illness or accident. Services enable vulnerable people to remain independent in their homes and give them the confidence to continue with their lives. Help and support is provided to people of all ages and backgrounds, from children, parents, young people, elderly and people with disabilities.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship. It happens when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have, and those that we want whereas isolation is an objective state whereby the number of contacts a person has can be counted.  For more information www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/about-loneliness/


* Office for National Statistics (2012)
** University of Chicago - Professor John Cacioppo (2014)

Loneliness Data by region

Data from an omnibus commissioned by The Co-operative – UK representative sample of 2,000 people.

Region Report that they regularly (always/often) feel lonely (%) Know someone in their community that is lonely (%) Didn’t confide in someone about feeling lonely (%)
UK wide 15 28 61
Scotland 13 29 61
North East 23 17 60
North West 12 28 63
Yorkshire & Humberside 14 28 66
East Midlands 17 30 58
West Midlands 15 28 65
Wales 14 24 64
Eastern 16 27 58
London 19 27 50
South East 13 29 66
South West 17 34 59
Northern Ireland 11 45 58

 Top three taboos that people are uncomfortable to talk about  

Subject Percentage
Sex 37
Being lonely 29
Body image 21

Subjects people are more comfortable talking about than being lonely

Subject Percentage
Body image 21
Mental health 19
Money 19
Death 19