Weekly Poll – Loneliness over the Festive Period
Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue and over December 2022, we asked our members about whether they experienced loneliness over the festive period and what could be done to relieve their experiences with loneliness.
Please note that this is a snapshot of the views of our membership and does not reflect a policy stance of Disability Equality Scotland. Any identifying information within respondents’ comments has been removed. If you plan to reference the findings featured in this report, please contact us in advance so that we are aware of this.
Results: 115 respondents
Do you experience loneliness and isolation during the festive period?
We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.
Festive loneliness for disabled people
The festive period was described by respondents as being a time of intensified loneliness. This is due to a variety of reasons, including social expectations around how to celebrate. It also includes closure of usual services and spaces, financial and physical inaccessibility of social activities, and lack of family and friends or inability to celebrate with them.
This loneliness over the festive period has also been worsened in recent times due to the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. The pandemic has forced many disabled people to shield and therefore lose social connections; the impact of which is especially felt during the festive period. The cost-of-living crisis is also especially impacting the disabled community which is therefore pushing more disabled people into social isolation. This is because the cost-of-living crisis makes it more difficult to afford costs surrounding the festive period, such as gifts, travelling, and socialising.
‘Many places stop at holiday times throughout the year, and this leaves those on their own without anything to go to or take part in’.
‘It feels worse because of all the hype that goes with this time of year. The ads on TV encouraging people to spend money many of them don’t have on totally impractical things. The shows on TV, the food we’re all expected to buy and consume and the parties that everyone seems to be having’.
‘[During the pandemic] it has become socially acceptable to knowingly exclude disabled people… I have no doubt this is exacerbating the lonely festive periods experienced by many disabled people’.
‘It’s going to be so much worse this year as I have had to cut back on grocery spends and can’t afford to heat my home. I am also avoiding meeting people as I can’t afford to go to cafes or exchange presents’.
Loneliness as a continuous problem
Many respondents also highlighted that concern around loneliness and isolation for disabled people should not just be limited to the festive period. Disabled people are isolated from social life all year round due to inaccessibility of venues and transport and financial barriers. Their isolation also stems from insufficient socialisation opportunities/support, and challenges around connecting with people, especially due to ignorant social attitudes towards disabled people.
‘I feel loneliness and isolation not just during the festive period but the whole year. I am disabled and lost my husband recently… None of the government help materialised… I do feel that there should be more support like a social club for people who are by themselves all the time.’
‘It may be more apparent during the festive period, but it is a yearlong issue. Although focusing on this time is important, we need to realise that just looking at the festive period doesn’t answer the ongoing issue of isolation. Due to my disability, it is physically impossible for me to get to events as public transport is either not accessible or doesn’t run at the right times… Having access to cheap, reliable, and accessible transport would go some way to answering this problem.’
Suggestions for change
Respondents also suggested several changes that would alleviate disabled people’s experiences of loneliness either during the festive period or all year round. One suggestion raised is there needs to be more social understanding around accessibility requirements and how not accommodating these can isolate disabled people. Many people and social spaces are not suitable for access needs and disabled people are then not included within events. We should therefore reshape spaces and norms around what the festive period should look like that currently exclude disabled people.
‘Social spaces are too noisy for me.’
‘Have autism friendly spaces, no flashing or bright lights, strong smells or noise that can’t be escaped.’
‘I would like those around me to understand what it is like to have life-threatening anaphylactic reactions to everything society expects at Christmas. I would like for people around me to take a little time to ‘forget’ their kind of Christmas and share with me one of simplicity.’
In general, respondents suggested there needs to be more opportunities and support so disabled people can socialize both online and in person. This could include thinking about accessibility when planning social events, providing more local social clubs, and ensuring digital access. These social opportunities must also be catered to a wide range of disabled people rather than just an older demographic.
‘Better access to social events with accessibility for those in wheelchairs of using walking aids. Also ensuring that those who can’t leave home have access to the Internet and are able to use apps or programs to communicate like Zoom or video calls.’
‘Maybe a social hub that people could go to. Too many are geared towards the older generation and very few (if any) are for single parents or people who are a bit younger… It would be nice to have a space where all ages mix as all different ages would benefit from talking to someone older or younger or just generally talking.’
Respondents also suggested that the community and community services play a vital role in reducing loneliness. However more steps could be taken by individuals, local communities, charities, and the government to expand and keep these services going and include disabled people. This could include checking in on people, such as neighbours, or participating in/creating befriending schemes matching disabled people with someone to chat with. It could also include providing various social spaces, such as clubs and societies, social hubs, physical activity classes, coffee mornings, lunch clubs, games nights etc.
‘We have people who live alone, people without families in hospital or care homes and people with families that never visit. As a community, we need to reach out to these people. A phone service manned by volunteers for a chat, a meals service such as feed a neighbour or spend an hour with someone you know… We can all be mindful of those disabilities. If we spend 5 minutes to bring some festive cheer, it could make a big difference.’
‘Maybe something like a lunch club arranged via GP surgeries – I read about one a while back which seemed to work well. The health impact of loneliness and isolation is huge and underestimated. Other things might be Zoom sessions for fitness or quizzes, and expansion of the Warm Spaces scheme or games nights (if there are accessible spaces), online clubs and societies (could people join student’s association ones for example?)’.
Another factor that was identified as isolating disabled people over the festive period is changes in the weather. Weather conditions, such as ice, snow, dark, rain etc., can make it more dangerous and worrying for many disabled people to leave home.
‘I also believe that the weather in Scotland sometimes keeps us in and alone. Social interaction is so important’.
‘During a cold spell I can’t meet up with friends as the pavements are not being treated and it’s too dangerous to walk. Therefore, I am housebound, and this has a big effect on mental health as well as physical health. Simple things like gritting pavements and roads when there has been a continually cold spell is one aspect of being able to see people face to face.
Finally it was also highlighted that expanding and increasing access to services is important in improving disabled people’s experience of loneliness. Examples of such services include public transport, social care, social groups etc. If these are not available or accessible the result is disabled people are unable to access social connection and are therefore isolated.
‘Public transport and my clubs normally keep me connected but unfortunately they all scale down or close down over the festive period and I feel so lonely and forgotten until mid-way through January.’
‘Better public transport that extends beyond city centres. More investment in local bus services. Staffed trains and stations with safe surroundings that are well lit. More done about the lack of taxis.’
‘Over time, many services have been cut. There used to for example many more social groups provided by councils This included fitness classes and regular physio classes…. I understand resources are stretched but these activity sessions are much missed.’
In summary, the festive period is a time of intensified loneliness for disabled people but is not the only time where loneliness is experienced. The experience of loneliness and festive loneliness have been worsened recently due to the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic which push people more into isolation. Loneliness for disabled people is produced by inaccessibility of social spaces, the outdoors, and transport. It also is a result of financial barriers, insufficient socialisation opportunities/support, and ignorant social attitudes towards disabled people.
There are however many suggested changes that could make the experience of loneliness easier. This includes increasing social understanding of accessibility requirements and how non-accommodation can isolate people. It also includes providing more socialisation opportunities and support both online and in person for a wide range of disabled people. Community and services are also important in reducing loneliness for disabled people. We need to take time to connect to those around us and expand and continue services that keep disabled people connected to the community.