EXPERIENCES of loneliness were not limited to Covid lockdown for people with learning disabilities, according to research 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 of 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 had exacerbated their feeling of loneliness.
The research was carried out by Savanta Comres and highlights the theme of loneliness during Learning Disability Week 2022 (20 – 27 June). 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 10 (38%) stating they were worried that people would 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 made a series of recommendations to Government to influence change and will continue to raise awareness of the issue through campaigning of MPs.
Victoria Hemmingway, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Hft, said:
“One of the consequences of the pandemic is that the unique set of circumstances it created resulted in a common experience of loneliness. Restrictions to our everyday life, through lockdowns, shielding and isolation meant everyone, to some extent, experienced feeling more disconnected from family, friends and support networks. But for many people with a learning disability, loneliness wasn’t 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 opportunities to make and maintain friendships and be part of a community.”
In the research, Lou from North Wales, shared her personal experiences of loneliness and isolation, having moved to a new home in a different area on her own shortly before the 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 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.