Poll reveals scale of ‘home alone’ Christmas in the UK this year | Loneliness

Twice the number of people as normal are expecting to spend Christmas alone this year as a result of the pandemic, according to figures that have prompted new concerns about a “silent epidemic of loneliness”.

The issue is particularly acute among those aged 65 and over, with as many as 1.7 million people saying they expected to be alone on Christmas Day. The figures, revealed in a new Opinium poll for the Observer, confirm the extent of the continued disruption that the pandemic has wrought on family get-togethers.

The polling reveals that overall people expecting to spend Christmas on their own has gone up from 4% in a normal year to 8% this year. Among the over-64s, the figure has risen from 7% to 14% – or 1.7 million people. Just 23% of adults say they will spend Christmas with their parents this year, down from 35% in normal times. Fewer than one in six (15%) plan to spend Christmas with siblings, nearly half the 27% who said they normally would.

The survey results follow a growing body of research raising concerns about the impact of loneliness during the pandemic. Similar polling for the British Red Cross in the autumn found that 39% of UK adults had not had a meaningful conversation with someone in the preceding fortnight and 32% worried that should something happen to them, no one would notice. Zoe Abrams, the executive director of communications and advocacy at the charity, said the seasonal impact of loneliness on top of the pandemic “cannot be underestimated”.

“Shorter daylight hours and a very different Christmas for many could compound feelings of isolation, especially for those who may have lost family members this year,” she said. “Loneliness is a public health issue – it can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia. We’d encourage civil society organisations to involve people dealing with loneliness in designing solutions. We’d also like all governments across the four nations to have a winter loneliness plan.”

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said while digital technology would help many older people connect with family over Christmas, hundreds of thousands will be “totally on their own and won’t hear from or speak to anyone at all”. She said: “As you move up the age range far fewer older people are online too, more than half from about the age of 75, making them more cut off still.

“With coronavirus still a very present threat it is more important than ever that we keep up the spirits of the older people in our lives by making the effort to stay in contact. A friendly phone call, a note through the door of a neighbour offering help with shopping, a letter or Christmas card to someone further away will all help beat back the intense feelings of loneliness.”

Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “This pandemic has created a silent epidemic of loneliness. Alongside improved mental health services, the government must make sure reliable tests are available to enable people to safely visit family and friends.”

Liz Kendall, the shadow care minister, called for new funds for mutual aid and community groups to help support those on their own. “The consequences of this pandemic of loneliness must not be ignored,” she said.

Christmas Covid rules do allow for conditional family gatherings. Between 23 and 27 December, three households can mix indoors and stay overnight. That window runs from 22 to 28 December in Northern Ireland. There are no limits placed on the number of people in Christmas bubbles in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, although guidance suggests they should remain “as small as possible”. In Scotland, bubbles can contain up to eight people, which does not include children under 12.


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