A new report, commissioned by Vodafone, highlights concerns from a panel of experts on the potential for the UK’s loneliness issue to become a second pandemic by 2030 if government, businesses, the charity sector and individuals don’t take action now. And research suggests that the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue – with over half of Britons saying they felt lonely during the first UK lockdown (53%), and a similar number (51%) reporting loneliness after restrictions were loosened in June. A fifth (22%) are already worried about feeling lonely this Christmas.
The Vodafone Loneliness 2030 Report explores what drives loneliness in the UK, and how the next decade is likely to unfold based on current trends. Using expert interviews, trends analysis and horizon scanning, the report outlines what lies in store for the UK by 2030, depending on choices and actions taken today. It also includes recommendations for government, businesses and the charity sector to steer the UK towards the best possible outcome.
The recommendations for businesses highlight the significant impact an employer can have on its employees’ wellbeing and surrounding communities. It suggests that to tackle this issue employers can, for example, support staff with flexible working practices, bring remote teams together and encourage communication among workers and redesign and digitise internal processes to best support new employees. Organisations can also take action to help with issues that contribute to isolation, such as supporting employees with additional caring responsibilities or who may be experiencing domestic abuse. Building a plan and taking action now to strengthen communities and address isolation will, the report suggests, have a significant impact over the next decade and beyond.
The issues of loneliness and isolation are not new, but have been brought to the fore by the Covid-19 pandemic. Two thirds (67%) of Brit’s believe the implementation of a full UK lockdown impacted their physical and/or mental wellbeing and over a quarter of people (27%) said they found it harder than anticipated. However the lockdown did highlight the positive impact of local connections, with more than a third (37%) of people making a new friend since March. 15% became friendly with a neighbour, 10% met someone via a local social media group and 9% met in local shops and businesses.
Vodafone has a number of programmes already underway aimed at combatting loneliness and isolation including a recent partnership with Age UK offering Vodafone employees the chance to volunteer as part of the charity’s Telephone Friendship Service. The service, a great example of business taking action, matches volunteers with older people with similar interests to make weekly 20-minute friendship calls.
Helen Lamprell, General Counsel and Director of External Affairs, Vodafone UK said: “Loneliness and social isolation can be devastating for our mental and physical health – and unfortunately, more and more people in the UK are experiencing it. We believe government, businesses, the charity sector and individuals can work together to improve the nation’s quality of life in the decade ahead. As a business that connects people, we have a responsibility to keep people connected in a whole range of ways.”
Throughout the pandemic, Vodafone has focused on keeping the UK connected with a particular focus on those most in need. It has given data to carers and NHS workers, six months free broadband to small businesses, helped disadvantaged children access learning in in Everton, Birmingham and Lancaster and supported older people with partners British Red Cross and Age UK. It also launched The Great British Tech Appeal, asking the public to donate unwanted smartphones and tablets and added connectivity – to date more than 2500 vulnerable people across the UK have been helped. Vodafone recently launched a new plan specifically for people who have lost their jobs as a result of Covid-19; and its schools.connected programme offering free connectivity to 250,000 children across the UK.