A closer look at loneliness statistics

At OSR, we have always been aware of the importance of loneliness statistics on a national and local scale. In 2019, we started a systemic review of loneliness statistics to investigate the state of official statistics on loneliness in the UK. 

Initially, we found there were some significant gaps in loneliness data that were not being filled by official or national statistics. Statistics users we spoke to, such as charities focused on loneliness, told us this made it more difficult for them to carry out their core functions of preventing and tackling loneliness among the UK population.  

We heard that good quality statistics that covered local and regional geographies were needed in order for them to deliver their services, allocate funding, and in some cases, present evidence to their regional parliaments. Where official statistics were not meeting these needs, expert users were often stepping in and producing their own statistics to fill data gaps. Given this, we identified a range of specific recommendations to help improve official statistics on loneliness. 

Like many pieces of work during this period however, the pandemic made us re-think our approach. The pandemic has changed how we all think and act, including how we think about loneliness. Understanding and addressing loneliness among the population has become a focus for governments and policy makers. In response, statistics producers have had to develop their loneliness statistics to meet society’s need for information. As a result, many good developments have happened in this area and we’ve found that statistics producers have been filling in some of the key gaps we identified when we first started looking at these statistics. Our new report published today commends the efforts by statistics producers in creating statistics that better serve the public good in answer to these societal changes. 

This isn’t to say that improvements can’t still be made though. Users we spoke during the pandemic still identified some key gaps in the official statistics landscape on loneliness. We would encourage statistics producers to build on the work they had achieved in the last 18 months and to continue to take forward producing statistics that meet user needs and offer value for charities and academics in preventing and researching loneliness.  

Continuing the loneliness review was one of the first pieces of work I got when I started my placement year at the OSR last September. I’ve really enjoyed working on the report and having the opportunity to lead a review and conversations with producers. Seeing the report published on my last day at the OSR brings a wonderful and rather cyclical end to my year! The work isn’t ending with me though. As an organisation, we are looking forward to continuing working in this area and assisting producers to develop their statistics to better meet user needs. If you would like to contact us about this, please email my colleague, Emma Harrison.