Around 9 million people in the UK say they often or always feel lonely, a figure that is expected to get worse by 2030.
A significant body of evidence has shown that reading could help halt the loneliness epidemic facing Britain, according to a report by leading think tank, Demos and charity The Reading Agency.
The report, entitled ‘A Society of Readers’ says that reading books can significantly reduce feelings of loneliness for people aged 18-64 and it is also associated with having close relationships.
The report coincides with the launch of a new programme from The Reading Agency called Reading Friends, funded by the Big Lottery Fund. By sharing stories in groups or one to one sessions, Reading Friends empowers and engages older people who are vulnerable and isolated, including people with dementia and carers. An evaluation of the test phase showed that a staggering 88% of participants appreciated the increased social contact from reading inspired conversations. The same percentage felt they added purpose to their week. Building on the initial success of the programme, The Reading Agency plans to expand Reading Friends for national rollout in 2020.
Previous research has found that reading groups can provide a route out of social isolation for young mothers, who are particularly susceptible to loneliness, with many saying reading helps to foster conversation. In addition, 95% of people who are blind or partially sighted read at least once a week to alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.
As well as revealing how reading can be used as an intervention for loneliness, the report explores how reading can benefit wellbeing and mental health, by regulating mood, exercising the brain, and providing an effective form of support for depression, anxiety and anger issues—for example, through self-help books. The report recommends that the NHS should encourage Clinical Commissioning Groups to invest more in book-based interventions as part of its social prescribing strategy and fund the provision of book based therapies in libraries across the country. Social mobility can also be positively influenced through reading; it breeds important life skills, which translate into greater opportunities in life. The report suggests that, in order to build a more productive, creative and fairer society, access to reading needs to be made universal and common for all.
Sue Wilkinson, Chief Executive of The Reading Agency said: ‘Demos’s predictions for 2030 offer a desperately concerning outlook. If we don’t start to tackle issues of loneliness, mental health and social mobility now, then we will continue to put pressure on our vital workforces such as the care sector and the NHS. The forecasts for the loneliness epidemic are particularly shocking, but reading can be part of the solution: as this report demonstrates, it is not only an essential life skill but has huge power to bring people together to combat loneliness among all age groups. Through reading-based national interventions, we can futureproof our society, and ultimately use reading to help protect younger generations at risk of rising levels of loneliness. We have already seen through our Reading Friends programme that social reading can have profound impact on older people who are often the most vulnerable in society. We hope these benefits will eventually be opened up to everyone.’