The UK’s ageing population means there will be more than two million over-50s suffering from loneliness by 2026, Age UK has said.
In a report titled All the Lonely People: Loneliness in Later Life, the charity predicts that unless this issue is tackled, the number of people aged 50 and over who are often lonely will have increased by 49 per cent between 2015-16 and 2025-26.
Age UK says that while a person’s age does not affect their chances of experiencing loneliness, the life events that can trigger the issue differ according to a person’s stage in life.
Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams said: “It makes sense to target help at people going through the kinds of challenging experiences that put people at risk, whether you are in your youth and leaving college; in midlife and going through a divorce; or in later life, having been bereaved.”
Drawing on findings in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, the charity says that over-50s who have been widowed are more than five times as likely to be often lonely as their peers who are in a relationship. The report also reveals that over-50s who are in poor health are 3.7 times as likely to be often lonely as older people who are in good health.
To combat loneliness, it will be necessary to tackle issues such as physical and mental health problems, the charity said, arguing that increasing participation in social activities is not enough.
The Age UK report comes as the Government finalises its Loneliness Strategy. A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which is spearheading the initiative, said: “Loneliness is an issue that can affect anyone and we are committed to tackling it. We have set up an £11m fund to better connect people across the country and our soon-to-be-launched loneliness strategy – the first of its kind in the world – will be a step to overcoming social isolation within society.”
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s wellbeing board, said: “Loneliness is a far from trivial issue. It can have a devastating effect on people’s physical and mental health, as well as placing an increasing burden on health and social care.
“For too many people, loneliness is their reality all year round. They are often less able to look after themselves, which can make existing health conditions worse, and are more likely to become reliant on public services.”