Experiences of loneliness were not limited to Covid lockdown for people with learning disabilities, according to a newly published report by Hft, a national charity supporting adults with learning disabilities.
Over a third (36%) of people with a learning disability surveyed after lockdown said they felt lonely nearly always or all the time, while one in three people (37%) also said that they hardly ever or never go out to socialise – suggesting that their experiences of loneliness were not simply a consequence of restrictions introduced due to the pandemic.
For many, feeling disconnected was a longstanding experience, with a third (33%) of those surveyed saying they did not feel part of their local community, and almost half also saying the pandemic has exacerbated their feeling of loneliness.
The research was carried out by Savanta Comres and is being launched to coincide with International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3rd December). The findings are based on analysis from an online survey exploring the themes of loneliness and isolation and draws on the views and experiences of more than 1,000 members of the general public who have a learning disability.
The report entitled, “Lockdown on Loneliness”, highlights unmet support needs as a key driver of loneliness which prevents many people with a learning disability from taking opportunities to socialise. Almost a quarter of people (24%) surveyed said they did not have enough support to go out into their community, while two thirds (66%) said they would like more support to do social activities and make friends – highlighting the vital role social care plays in supporting people with a learning disability to participate in every day social activities.
Public attitude also played an integral part in increasing people’s feelings of loneliness. One in three people (33%) said they were not confident making friends, with almost four in ten (38%) stating they were worried that people will not understand their disability. More than a third (39%) were concerned that people would be unkind.
Based on the findings of the report, Hft has now made a series of recommendations to Government to influence change and will be raising awareness of the issue through their Lockdown on Loneliness campaign.
Victoria Hemmingway, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Hft said: “
One of the consequences of the last 18 months, is that the unique set of circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a common experience of loneliness. Restrictions to our everyday life, through lockdowns, shielding, and isolation, has meant everyone, to some extent, has experienced feeling more disconnected from family, friends and support networks. But for many people with a learning disability, loneliness hasn’t been restricted to the pandemic; it is a chronic and long-term experience. By identifying the drivers of loneliness and taking action to combat these barriers we have the opportunity to make positive change as we rebuild our communities, ensuring that no one with a learning disability spends a lifetime feeling like they are still in lockdown.
Hft’s vision is for a world in which people with a learning disability can live the best life possible. This must include having equal opportunity to make and maintain friendships and be part of a community.
In the report Lou, from North Wales, shares her personal experiences of loneliness and isolation, having moved to a new home in a different area on her own shortly before lockdown began. She said the turning point for her was joining Luv2meetU, a friendship service for adults with learning disabilities run by Hft.
I felt all on my own. I was in a new place and I didn’t know anybody. It felt very strange and scary. I had sometimes felt lonely before, but being in lockdown made it worse. I felt like I was in a bad place. Now I am a different person. I feel so much better in myself. Joining Luv2meetU has helped me with my self-confidence and has really brought me out of my shell. I think everyone should have the opportunity to make friends.
Hft is now calling for the Government to use social care reform as an opportunity to tackle the key drivers of loneliness identified in the report. Recommendations made include ensuring the inclusion of funding for activities which support friendship and connection as part of an individual’s care package.
To view the research and find out how to support our campaign to end loneliness please visit: www.hft.org.uk/lockdownonloneliness