Summary of the current statistical landscape
Responsibility for tackling loneliness in the UK is a devolved issue. Whilst there is no one single definition of loneliness, it is widely recognised that loneliness is a subjective feeling experienced when there is a difference between the social relationships we would like to have and those we actually have.
The UK’s official statistical landscape on loneliness is a complex picture. Each country measures loneliness in slightly different ways and reports on different disaggregation.
In England, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are responsible for coordinating the Government’s work on loneliness and following up on the strategy for tackling loneliness in England, which was published in 2018.
Since the loneliness strategy was launched, the government has made several contributions to improve the evidence base and understanding of loneliness. Notably, this included development of a national indicator to measure loneliness by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) , which has since been adopted as the interim Government Statistical Service (GSS) harmonised measure of loneliness. This measure includes three questions that are drawn from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) scale for loneliness (an indirect measure of the concept) along with one question which asks about loneliness directly (known as a direct measure).
The Community Life Survey currently stands as the key official statistics publication for England, with other supplementary information provided by the ONS and Sport England. At the time of publishing this review, statistics on loneliness for England only go down to a regional level (for example North East, East Midlands, South West etc.) but do provide some breakdowns by characteristics. The Community Life Survey (2019/20) has, therefore, been able to explore the impact of loneliness on different groups. This survey found loneliness levels are higher for women, 16-24 year olds, and those with a long term limiting illness or disability. 6% of respondents stated they felt lonely often/always.
 Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport ‘A Connected society a strategy for tackling loneliness’ (2018)
 Office for National Statistics, ‘Measuring loneliness: guidance for use of the national indicators on surveys’
Following the publication of their strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness in 2018, the Scottish Government has committed to improving understanding of increases around social isolation and loneliness and the causes/impacts. This report highlighted the need for a strategy to tackle loneliness in Scotland. As part of an evidence review, the Scottish Government found 6% of adults had contact with their family, friends, or neighbours less than once or twice a week, and 11% of adults in Scotland often felt lonely.
In Scotland, the national indicator for loneliness is a single direct measure question on the Scottish Household survey that feeds into Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework. These indicators give a measure of national wellbeing including a range of economic, social and environmental indicators. The question on the Scottish Household Survey is not directly comparable across the UK as it uses different response options and includes a reference period.
The Scottish Household Survey provides local level (for example council area or local authority level) data on loneliness with some demographic breakdowns like ethnicity or disability.
In its strategy for tackling loneliness and social isolation, published in 2020, the Welsh Government committed to working to build a stronger evidence base around the causes of loneliness and social isolation.
In Wales, the national indicator for loneliness is known as the De Jong Gierveld measure, a six-item indirect measure which considers loneliness as having both social and emotional dimensions. This means it is not comparable to direct measures, nor the interim GSS harmonised measure, however it is comparable to other studies that use the De Jong Gierveld measure.
The National Survey for Wales includes the national indicator in specific runs of the survey. The last available data on loneliness was published in December 2020 and includes local authority level data and demographic breakdowns. The survey did find, however, that 15% of people in Wales felt lonely between April 2019 to March 2020. This is a 1% decrease from the findings for 2017/18.
The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) published the first official statistics release on loneliness in Northern Ireland in 2020.
Northern Ireland do not currently have a national indicator for loneliness but there are direct and indirect measures of loneliness in the Annual Health Survey Northern Ireland and a direct measure in The Continuous Household Survey in Northern Ireland. The Health Survey Northern Ireland and the Continuous Household survey both match the GSS harmonised measure and are therefore comparable to England. NISRA’s breakdowns reflect the findings of other administration’s surveys – for example women and more likely to report feeling loneliness than men. More than 1/3 of respondents in the Continuous Household survey reported feeling ’more often lonely’ in 2019/20.
The official statistics from Northern Ireland do not currently include local level data, but do include local government district information and some demographic breakdowns.