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Loneliness and social isolation in Reading

Common themes

Age

Although loneliness and social isolation are important issues for people in older age groups, local and national survey results indicate that other age groups are also affected. As well as those of older age,those of older working age and young adults may also be at risk.

Most older people in Reading live in neighbourhoods in the North and West of the Borough (Peppard, Thames, Mapledurham, Kentwood, Tilehurst and Southcote) . Higher numbers of those in older working age groups also live in these areas, as well as neighbourhoods around Whitley and Park wards in the South. Young adults are more likely to live in more central areas, including those adjacent to the University of Reading.

Living alone

Positive relationships with family, especially with a spouse or life partner, are protective against loneliness. Local and national survey results suggest that those living alone were more likely to report loneliness.

Most people living alone in Reading live in in areas around the town centre, including adjacent to the University of Reading. About three quarters of these reported being single and never married. The largest numbers who reported their status as separated or divorced lived in Abbey, Whitley and Norcot wards and the largest numbers of widowed people lived in Tilehurst, Peppard and Southcote.

Life events

Key transitions in people's lives appear to increase the risk of both loneliness and social isolation. This could include changes in relationships, changes in health status, or a change that affects the person's role or sense of identity such as retirement, bereavement or becoming a parent. There is some evidence that for many people this may be a transitory phase after which they are able to enlarge or improve the quality of their network of relationships and 'recover' from loneliness in due course.

Although these experiences are difficult to quantify locally, it is notable that Reading's 2017 survey of residents found that those who had lived in the area for a relatively short amount of time appeared more vulnerable to loneliness than those who had been resident for longer. Reading has a relatively young and transient population, including a substantial student population and high rate of international immigration. While moving to Reading should not be the only life event considered, this may be an event likely to be experienced by the local population.

Some commentators make the point that those in older age may be more likely to have been affected by significant life events, especially bereavement.

Income

Evidence from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) suggests that wealth is the factor with the strongest correlation with loneliness. Reviews discuss both practical constraints resulting from lack of income and wider social exclusion associated with deprivation and lack of social resources and support.

Reading has key areas of high deprivation found:

  • in the far south of Whitley ward and Northumberland Avenue area
  • throughout Abbey ward and around the town centre
  • around Dee Road in Norcot ward
  • around Coronation Square in Southcote ward; and
  • around Amersham Road in Caversham ward

Transport

Lack of affordable transport and access to local facilities were highlighted as potential barriers to social connectedness and to maintaining relationships with others, but researchers found it difficult to assess impact. As people who are more inclined towards social participation may be more likely to live near a busy community or a regular bus route than those who are not, it was impossible to determine whether higher levels of social participation were the result of the bus route or of personal preference.

Deprivation related to geographical barriers (access to shops, post office, GP surgery and primary school) in Reading appears to mainly affect areas in the North and West of the Borough, as well as some areas around Coley and Whitley.

Health

While there is agreement that poor health contributes to the risk of loneliness and social isolation, it is more difficult to determine how the two are connected. Age UK warn against the assumption that those with health conditions necessarily have less social interaction than others and suggest that health conditions may combine with other factors to make social interaction more difficult. Some research participants spoke about management of health issues leaving them feeling drained of energy, or of feeling like a burden or inconvenience to other people.  More work may be useful to understand how different health conditions may affect loneliness and social isolation differently.

In Reading, residents in the North of the Borough and around Kentwood and Tilehurst were more likely to report being in 'very bad health', while those in the South and West of Reading were the most likely to report 'bad health'. The indices of multiple deprivation for health deprivation and disability suggest worst health in the South of the Borough, particularly in most deprived neighbourhoods.

What works?

Working with communities to promote strong social networks and connection with community.

Interventions to help people understand how to maintain and extend their social network, usually in groups but also one-to-one.

Importantly, identifying existing services and their impact on social connectivity and  prevention and reduction of loneliness.

Summary

Becoming lonely or socially isolated is a complex process affected by a range of interrelated factors. Individuals may be at greater risk if they:

  • are single (have no current spouse of life partner)
  • have recently experienced a significant change to their life
  • are impeded by practical barriers (a health problem, transport, lack of time or energy)
  • lack economic or social resources.

Older people or older working age people may be more likely to meet these criteria, as they are more likely to have experienced bereavement or divorce, and local survey results indicate that a recent move to the area (meeting the criteria for a significant change) may be a particular risk in Reading.

pdf icon Loneliness and Social Isolation full report [10Mb]

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