According to figures that have raised new concerns about the “silent loneliness epidemic”, twice as many people as usual plan to spend Christmas alone this year due to the pandemic.
The issue is particularly acute among people aged 65 and over, and as many as 1.7 million people said they plan to be alone at Christmas. Figures revealed in the new Opinium survey on Observer, confirm the extent of the ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic in family reunions.
The survey reveals that overall, people who plan to spend Christmas on their own have grown from 4% in a normal year to 8% this year. Among those over 64, this figure has risen from 7% to 14% – or 1.7 million people. Only 23% of adults say they will spend Christmas with their parents this year, compared to 35% in normal times. Less than one in six (15%) plan to spend Christmas with siblings, almost half of those 27% who said that usually.
The results of the survey follow a growing body of research that raises concerns about the impact of loneliness during a pandemic. A similar survey by the British Red Cross in the autumn found that 39% of British adults had not had a meaningful conversation with someone in the past two weeks and 32% were worried that if something happened to them, no one would notice. Zoy Abrams, executive director of the charity’s communications and advocacy, said the seasonal impact of loneliness on the pandemic “cannot be underestimated.”
“A shorter time of day and a very different Christmas could create a sense of isolation for many, especially those who may have lost family members this year,” she said. “Loneliness is a public health problem – it can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia. We encourage civil society organizations to involve lonely people in the development of solutions. We would also like all four governments to have a winter solitude plan. “
Caroline Abraham, charity director for Age UK, said that while digital technology would help many older people stay in touch with their family at Christmas, hundreds of thousands would be “completely alone and not hearing or talking to anyone at all”. She said: “As you move older, there are far fewer older people online, more than half of those around 75, making them even younger.
“As the coronavirus is still a very current threat, it is more important than ever to keep your life in the spirit of older people trying to stay in touch. A friendly phone call, a note at the neighbor’s door offering shopping help, a letter or a Christmas card for someone further away will help to prevent strong feelings of loneliness. “
Liberal Democrat leader Eddie Davies said: “This pandemic has created a silent epidemic of loneliness. In parallel with improved mental health services, the government needs to make sure that reliable tests are available so that people can visit family and friends safely. “
Shadow Care Minister Lisa Kendala called for new funding for mutual aid and community groups to help themselves. “The consequences of this loneliness pandemic must not be ignored,” she said.
The Christmas Covid rules do allow for conditional family reunions. From 23 to 27 December, three households can mix indoors and stay overnight. This window is open from 22 to 28 December in Northern Ireland. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is no limit to the number of people in Christmas bubbles, although guidance suggests that they should be kept “as small as possible”. In Scotland, bubbles can carry up to eight people, not including children under 12.