Loneliness is rising: 1 in 8 adults have no close friends

Release Date: Wednesday 1st March 2017

Charity report shows an increase in the number of people with no close friends

Almost seven million UK adults* – more than 1 in 8 of us (13%) – report having no close friends**, according to research out today from leading relationships charities Relate and Relationships Scotland. This has increased from 1 in 10 (10%) when the same question was asked in 2014 and 2015. 

The charities’ new report, You’re not alone – the quality of the UK’s social relationships, also found that almost half (45%) of UK adults say they feel lonely at least some of the time and almost a fifth (18%) said that they feel lonely often or all of the time.  Sadly, almost one in six (17%) said they never (5%) or rarely (12%) feel loved.

The good news is that 83% of people in the UK enjoy good relationships with their friends.

How many close friends do people have?

The most commonly reported number of close friends is two or three, with 18% of people selecting each. A further 6% of people feel they have more than 10 close friends. 

Proportion of people who have no close friends by region

Looking across the country, people from the East Midlands were the most likely to report having no close friends - 17% or 1 in 6 - whereas people living in the South West were the least likely say this - 10% or 1 in 10.

Relate is concerned that increased dependence on social media, lack of work/life balance and the pressures of bringing up children could be affecting people’s friendships.  Chief Executive Chris Sherwood commented: “It’s often said that we should be able to count our true friends on one hand, but it’s very concerning that so many people feel they don’t have a single friend they can rely on.  Making friends and keeping them isn’t always easy: it can take time and effort that we don’t always have to spare. Life can take over as we juggle careers with family life, and it might seem as if our social media friend count is high but what is the quality of those friendships really like?

“Social relationships are essential to our health and wellbeing.  We mustn’t take them for granted. People need support to be able to nurture personal friendships and feel part of a community.  Individual counselling could also provide part of the solution for anyone who’s feeling lonely and Relate’s doors are always open.”

Friends, neighbours and wellbeing

The report, which is based on a survey of more than 5,000 people, found that the number of friends we have and the quality of those friendships has an impact on our wellbeing. People with no close friends are two-and-a-half times as likely to say they feel down, depressed or hopeless either often or all of the time (31%) as those with four or more close friends (13%). And people who reported their friendships to be ‘very good’ are more than twice as likely to feel good about themselves often or all of the time as people who said their relationships were ‘average’.

Everybody really does need good neighbours, too. The report found that people who enjoyed better relationships with their neighbours were more likely to feel good about themselves and less likely to feel down, depressed or hopeless. Interestingly, 61% of heterosexual respondents reported good relationships with their neighbours compared with only 49% of LGB+ people.

Loneliness across the ages

Contrary to many people’s perceptions, younger people were more likely to report feeling lonely than older people. Almost two-thirds (65%) of 16-24-year-olds said they feel lonely at least some of the time, and almost a third (32%) feel lonely often or all the time. Among people aged 65 or over, however, 32% said they feel lonely at least sometimes, and 11% feel lonely often or all the time.  A key recommendation of the report is that the Jo Cox Commission investigates the causes and effects of loneliness in younger people in particular.

You can read the report in full here.


For media enquiries, including interview requests for our counsellors or the report’s author, please contact sarah.osmik@relate.org.uk or 0207 554 2895. For urgent out of hours media enquiries, contact 07971 869 735. Relate can also provide further content such as tips on how to deepen your friendships.

*This figure was calculated by taking the 13% stat from The Way We Are Now study and comparing this to the total UK adult population as per the latest ONS data: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/datasets/populationestimatesforukenglandandwalesscotlandandnorthernireland)

So 13% not having any close friends in The Way We Are Now survey would equate to 6,870,782 people without any close friends in the total population. This figure is statistically significant at a confidence level of 95%.

**All figures, unless otherwise stated, are taken from The Way We Are Now– an annual study of the relationships of over 5,000 people across the UK by Relate and Relationships Scotland. The study was carried out by YouGov. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th June and 7th July 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 16+). YouGov is a member of the British Polling Council. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The same number of close friends question was asked in 2014 and 2015 (also in YouGov polls of over 5000 UK adults) and the responses then were 1 in 10 people had no close friends. 

The Way We Are Now is an annual report into the state of the nation’s relationships by Relate and Relationships Scotland. This year, the report is divided into a series of mini reports covering Work, Sex, Partners, Family, Friends and Disability which will be published throughout the year.  The social relationships report is the fourth in the series to be released. For publication dates of upcoming reports, please contact the Relate media office.

Notes to editors:

  • Relate and Relationships Scotland have released The Way We Are Now report to raise awareness of the importance of relationships for individuals and society. We are working together to let people know how relationship support can help people of all ages, at all stages of their relationships.
  • Relationships are under increasing pressure – breakdown costs the UK an estimated £48bn each year.
  • Relate champions the importance of strong and healthy relationships as the basis of a thriving society.
  • Relate provides impartial and non-judgmental support for people of all ages, at all stages of couple, family and social relationships.
  • Over a million people every year access information, support and counselling from Relate but it's clear many more would benefit from Relate services.
  • Relate’s couple counselling work delivers an estimated £11.40 of benefits for every £1 spent.
  • Relate’s services extend beyond relationship counselling to family counselling, counselling for young people, sex therapy and informal courses and workshops and are offered through a network of around 1,700 counsellors across the country.
  • Relate celebrated its 75th birthday in 2013.
  • For more information and advice visit: www.relate.org.uk.
  • Relationships Scotland’s network provides relationship counselling, family mediation, child contact centres and other family support services across all of mainland and island Scotland. Their work supports individuals, couples and families experiencing relationship difficulties. Around 20,000 people have contact with their services each year.

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