Nearly 50% of working-age disabled people are chronically lonely, according to new research collected by the disability charity Scope. To put that percentage into perspective; a total of around three million disabled people in Britain are saying they “always or often” feel lonely.
Britain has - unfortunately - been given the title of “the loneliness capital of Europe” by The Office for National Statistics. Apparently, British people - particularly young people - are far less likely to know their neighbours or have strong relationships than citizens of any other country in the EU.
Scope’s research also revealed that one in eight disabled people interact with other people for less than 30 minutes everyday. It’s statistics like this that reaffirm that the UK’s support system for disabled people is failing.
As a society, we tend to brush over the link between loneliness and disability, as well as the long-term health problems it has inflicted on people’s lives for decades. It’s hard to ignore when you find out just how many disabled millennials are affected by loneliness; a staggering 85% of young disabled adults (18-34 year-olds) have said that they feel lonely and isolated.
Why is this number so high? Government cuts are a major problem. Students in their twenties are unable to go to university solely because they aren’t provided with the care package that enables them to attend their lectures. Whilst other twentysomethings have to be put to bed from as early as 8pm because their care slots have been restricted by the council.
More cuts again have rendered people housebound. Tens of thousands of disabled people can’t even complete basic chores on their own, like going to the shops, purely because the motability car scheme benefit was taken away from them. If that wasn’t bad enough, thousands of wheelchair users are trapped in inaccessible housing; with a vast majority of them revealing they haven’t been able to go outside for months.
Even when wheelchair users are invited to socialise with friends at a pub, bar or restaurant, many have to decline the offer as the chosen establishment isn’t accessible. Simply getting to places can also pose a problem as a vast majority of public transport isn’t wheelchair friendly.
However, providing disabled people with the needed care isn’t enough to fix this loneliness epidemic. UK citizens need to change their perceptions of disability. Astonishingly, two-thirds of UK citizens said they feel awkward talking to disabled people. Shockingly, millennials are twice as likely as older people to feel uncomfortable when they are around disabled people. What’s worse is a fifth of all 18-34 year-olds admitted that they will avoid talking to someone with a disability, mainly because they don’t know how to communicate with them and they believe it will be difficult to find some common ground to talk about.
It’s fair to say that us British people tend to avoid discussing taboo issues such as loneliness; but our perceptions of disability and our avoidance to discuss it is contributing to loneliness.
Overcoming this misconception that a disabled person is different to other people will significantly help eradicate chronic loneliness amongst disabled people.
We cannot deny that the UK does isolate disabled people. But to in order to overcome this dilemma, the british public needs to accept that we are a part of the problem.