Negative attitudes among non-disabled people are contributing to a loneliness epidemic.
Over half of nearly 13 million disabled people in the UK feel isolated and lonely in the face of negative public attitudes towards them, a new report for the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness has found.
A quarter of non-disabled people surveyed by the charity Sense said they actively avoided conversations with disabled people, most citing “fear of causing offence”, “feeling uncomfortable” and “not knowing what to talk about” as why they’d avoid contact and conversations.
Only half of non-disabled respondents said they felt they had anything in common with disabled people, the survey with a sample of 2,000 found.
Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who co-chairs the Jo Cox commission on loneliness, said reducing misconceptions about disability was key to addressing this ‘epidemic’ of loneliness:
“Increasing awareness of different conditions and battling misconceptions about disability are both important steps to help reduce loneliness amongst disabled people.”
The numbers are disproportionately high amongst the young – 75 per cent of disabled people under the age of 24 said they suffered loneliness; whilst their non-disabled counterparts were twice as likely to have avoided conversations with them.
A quarter of young people could not recall the last time they’d met a disabled person.
Seema Kennedy MP, co-chair of the Jo Cox Commission on loneliness said:
“Jo Cox strongly believed that ‘we have far more in common than that which divides us’ … we would all benefit from seeking to create connections with others by focusing on our similarities and shared interests rather than our differences.”
Deputy CEO of Sense Richard Kramer said that ‘outdated attitudes’ were to blame for the epidemic of loneliness amongst disabled people; shared interests lying just under the surface of these dividing attitudes:
“Better understanding of disability and a shift in societal awareness are a key step in allowing disabled people to play a full part in society with the same opportunities to make connections as everybody else.”
Every disability is different, says Sense, however common responses can be found: opening up the conversation about disability is key.
Over the next month the charity will publishing joint research with other disability charities on additional steps necessary to tackle loneliness.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.