Youth loneliness in London – the true cost

The new Mayor of London should commit to appointing a Deputy Mayor for Young People to provide oversight of young people’s services across London, and ensure that their needs are met. This is one of a number of recommendations contained in ‘Coming in from the Cold’, sponsored by the City Bridge Trust and written by charity leaders’ network ACEVO.                                                                                            

There has been little in-depth research into this problem. This report is a ground-breaking attempt to begin this process. Using London as a test case, the report examines the causes of loneliness among young people and proposes solutions for the associated problems.

It focusses on people aged 16 to 32 year olds and estimates that the health, crime and unemployment costs, in part associated with loneliness, in the capital add up to some £34.5 billion. The damage done by loneliness to the young themselves can range from poor physical and mental health, a suppression of future job/earning opportunities or a drift into gangland culture.

According to a 2014 national survey, 34% of people say that they often feel lonely – this is in stark contrast to 48% of 18-24 year olds. Young people are a singularly lonely demographic. For London, ACEVO commissioned research by young people’s charity Get Connected. An analysis of their logs using key words such as ‘lonely’ or ‘isolated’ indicated that young Londoners were roughly twice as likely to be lonely as the national average. This original research is the first time that an attempt has been made to establish the extent of this problem.

The report also found that both women and ethnic minorities were significantly over-represented among lonely young Londoners – each demographic accounting for 50% more contacts than would be expected. With the majority of those reaching out for support being between 18 and 24, we can surmise that this is linked to undergoing a ‘life transition’ – be it leaving home, entering the world of work or falling in to the category known as ‘NEET’.

The causes of loneliness are concentrated in the capital. A major trigger of loneliness is life change which is highly manifest in London be it leaving home for the first time, starting or leaving university, the failure of a major relationship or becoming a parent. According to the young people most affected by this, contributing factors are location change, high housing costs, long working hours and the growth of social media. And, in the anonymity of the city, lonely individuals become habituated to isolation, and thus expect their social interactions to fit into this pattern.

What is most surprising is that those reaching out to GetConnected often had no other concerns logged alongside their loneliness – suggesting it is not a specific concern, but more of a sense that not all is right in their lives. This generalized anxiety requires a high level strategic approach in order to combat it.

In addition to the proposals targeted at London, ‘Coming in from the Cold’ contains recommendations for national implementation by central Government. Among these the report calls for:

1)    A significant increase government’s focus on prevention. Not only can very minor interventions at an early stage have a huge impact, but the act of alleviating loneliness prevents a great many future problems. The prevention of crises are far more cost effective in both cash and human terms, alleviating the slow and debilitating evolution of issues which eventually require a far higher use of resources.

2)    A significant escalation of support for and the participation of charities in this area: – volunteer-staffed services can cost as little as £32 per participant. This too is highly cost effective – within the young offender environment for example such costs are meagre compared to the £40,000 price tag of keeping a young person in prison.

Commenting on the findings of the ‘Coming in from the Cold’ ACEVO Director of Public Policy Asheem Singh said: “Our research demonstrates that where – as in London – stimulus is rampant, loneliness actually approaches the status of pandemic. Not only are the human costs immense but the financial cost of loneliness is commensurately shocking. We call on all London Mayoral Candidates from Zac Goldsmith to Sadiq Khan to recognize the scale of the problem and to commit within their manifesto  to a Deputy Mayor for Young People and begin to deal with this pandemic.”

To read the executive summary of ‘Coming in from the Cold’, see here.
To read the full report, see here.

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