A new report, published by learning disability charity Hft, has revealed the extent to which people with learning disabilities felt lonely, both during and after Covid lockdowns.

The report, published to coincide with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, is based on an analysis from an online survey of more than 1,000 members of the general public who have a learning disability.

A third of people surveyed felt lonely nearly always or all the time

The findings show that experiences of loneliness were not limited to lockdowns, with more than a third (36%) of people with learning disabilities saying they felt lonely nearly always or all the time.

A similar number of people (37%) said they hardly ever or never go out to socialise, while a third (33%) said they did not feel part of their local community.

The report, entitled 'Lockdown on Loneliness', highlights unmet support needs as a key driver of loneliness, as this prevents many people with a learning disability from taking the opportunity to socialise.

Indeed, the survey found that almost a quarter of people (24%) said they did not have enough to support to go out into the community, while two thirds (66%) said they would like more support to do social activities and make friends.

Social care plays a vital role in supporting people to participate in social activities

Hft say the report’s findings highlight the vital role that social care plays in supporting people with a learning disability to participate in everyday social activities.

Public attitude also played an integral part in exacerbating feelings of loneliness, with almost four in ten (38%) saying they were worried people will not understand their disability and a similar number (39%) saying they were worried people would be unkind.

In the report Lou, from North Wales, shares her personal experiences of loneliness and isolation, having moved to a new home in a different area on her own shortly before lockdown began. She said the turning point for her was joining Luv2meetU, a friendship service for adults with learning disabilities run by Hft.

Lou said: "I felt all on my own. I was in a new place and I didn’t know anybody. It felt very strange and scary. I had sometimes felt lonely before, but being in lockdown made it worse. I felt like I was in a bad place. Now I am a different person. I feel so much better in myself. Joining Luv2meetU has helped me with my self-confidence and has really brought me out of my shell. I think everyone should have the opportunity to make friends."

People with learning disabilities must have equal opportunities to make and maintain friendships

As a result of these findings, Hft are calling on the Government to use the social care reform as an opportunity to tackle the key drivers of loneliness identified in the report. They make a series of recommendations, including ensuring the inclusion of funding for activities which support friendship and connection as part of an individual’s care package.

Victoria Hemmingway, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Hft said: “For many people with a learning disability, loneliness hasn’t been restricted to the pandemic; it is a chronic and long-term experience. By identifying the drivers of loneliness and taking action to combat these barriers, we have the opportunity to make positive change as we rebuild our communities, ensuring that no one with a learning disability spends a lifetime feeling like they are still in lockdown.

“Hft’s vision is for a world in which people with a learning disability can live the best life possible. This must include having equal opportunity to make and maintain friendships and be part of a community.”