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  1. ITV Report

Lonely this Christmas: Tonight

Christmas is traditionally a time for us to be with our loved ones to spend some much needed quality time together. But what if you have no one?

Tonight examines the increasing problem of loneliness in the UK, as reporter Fiona Foster meets both young and old people who are suffering from social isolation and discovers it poses a serious threat to our health.

Jack is 93. He met his wife-to-be Audrey shortly after the war. She passed away in 2010 and he says he misses her dreadfully. This Christmas he will spend the day on his own.

Jack Credit: ITV / Tonight

If I wake up Christmas morning it’s the same as any other day to me. There won’t be a Christmas dinner… whatever I’ve got in the fridge from the supermarket shelf, but it won’t be a Christmas dinner. I’ve got some mince pies mind you, so I’ll have a mince pie.”

– Jack

For Anthea, 65, Christmas feels like a particularly lonely time of year.

Anthea Credit: ITV / Tonight

I haven’t got family to wrap presents for. I just hope maybe a carer will drop by just to say ‘hello’ and hopefully cheer me up a little bit. It’s a horrible feeling. It’s just as though you’ve fallen on the ground and there’s nobody there to pick you up.

– Anthea

A survey commissioned especially for Tonight has revealed nearly 10% of us feel lonely most of the time. Experts are now convinced that it can prove more serious than previously thought.

There’s a mountain of evidence which clearly shows if you have a sustained period of loneliness, it’s the equivalent to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. The reality, whether we like it or not, is that loneliness is cutting life short.”

– Marcus Rand, Campaign to End Loneliness

A million over 65s could spend Christmas on their own this year. So what can be done to help the likes of Jack and Anthea? There are initiatives around the country, from helplines, to schemes encouraging older people to keep hens, to communal workspaces for socially isolated men. One possible solution for the elderly is specially designed retirement villages that encourage social interaction in a safe, welcoming environment. Tonight followed 73–year-old Margery as she moved into her new community after living alone in her 3 bedroom former family home.

To move out of the house and to move here before Christmas meant an awful lot to me because to have spent another Christmas there with the darkness when I’m left on my own of an evening felt really bad to me. Here I feel really comfortable and secure and happy, very happy.”

– Margery
Margery Credit: ITV / Tonight

But Margery is one of the lucky ones. There is a shortage of retirement accommodation in the UK, with only 1% of the population living in them compared to 17% in the US. It’s a problem we need to address urgently according to the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing, Care and Older People.

"It’s about there being enough of these homes and that’s the biggest problem. The solution is we want lots more places where there are modern, light bright apartments in central places where you can walk to the doctor, walk to your social life as well and where you have got around you other older people who have got the same kind of interests as yourself.”

– Lord Richard Best

However, loneliness doesn’t just affect the older generation. Tonight’s survey found more than half of 18-34 year olds would not tell family or friends if they were feeling lonely. Alex is just 25 and says he doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t lonely.

The best way I can describe it is a kind of longing to feel part of something, to have company, that kind of feeling.”

– Alex
Alex Credit: ITV / Tonight

So it’s a problem we could all suffer from at any time in our lives and one that we can all help alleviate, whether that’s through structured volunteering or simply knocking on the door of someone in our street who we think might be feeling alone. The good news is people can have their lives transformed.

The old Margery has come back. I lost myself. I literally lost myself. I am back and I’m back to stay.”

– Margery

Useful links and phone numbers:

If you are looking for an activity on Christmas Day, you can visit Community Christmas to see if anything is happening in your area, or call 0844 443 0662 (please note this is a premium rate number operating office hours with an answerphone in operation out of hours).

Visit Friends of the Elderly for year round support or call 0330 332 1110.

The Silver Line, helpline for the elderly is a 24 hour freephone number: 0800 4708090

Get Connected, helpline for under 25s: 0808 8084994

The Extra Care Charitable trust, Retirement properties for older people.

Independent age, providing befriending services: 0800 319 6789

Community Network, telephone befriending service: 0207 9235250

Age UK, support and advice for the elderly, advice line: 0800 169 6565

Contact the Elderly, tackling loneliness and social isolation among older people: 0800 716543

MIND, for help with mental health problems: 0300 1233393

  • Lonely This Christmas: Tonight airs at 7.30pm on ITV