Friendships suffer during lockdown, while loneliness drives 12% of people to break lockdown rules

  • During lockdown, one in five think friendships have been strained and a quarter of UK adults have come to realise they have “no real friends”, according to new research by Santander UK(1)
  • Feelings of loneliness have been so strong that 12% of adults have knowingly broken lockdown rules to have some contact with friends and family
  • Over 55s in particular have missed contact with friends and family
  • Santander UK employees are signing up with Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK to chat to older people and those affected by dementia
  • The Santander Foundation is donating £3million to the two charities to provide support during the pandemic. (2)

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the UK’s loneliness problem, with a quarter of UK adults saying that lockdown has made them realise that they have “no real friends”, according to new research by Santander UK.

The research shows that people have been reflecting on their friendships in recent months, with 29% of all adults saying they have been disappointed not to have heard from particular friends since lockdown began, and one in five saying their friendships have been strained because their friends haven’t bothered to get in touch with them.  Fourteen per cent fear they have lost friends forever as a result of not being able to visit them in person.

Loneliness has been so unbearable for 12% of people in the UK that they have deliberately broken lockdown rules in a bid to alleviate their feelings of isolation. Meanwhile, many have turned to food and drink for comfort, with 40% of lonely people saying they have been eating too much, and a quarter drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

One of the most common effects of loneliness is missing friends and family, and the over 55s have felt this more than other age groups. Almost three-quarters of over 55s say they have struggled during lockdown, while 38% of all adults have noticed a deterioration in their older or vulnerable relatives’ mental or physical wellbeing since the start of lockdown.

In fact, the over 55s are the age group that is most likely to report having had less contact with friends and family than younger people during the pandemic than previously. And they are the most likely to have gone for 31 days or more without speaking to anybody since the pandemic began.  Despite the loneliness issues they face, two thirds of over 55s have not spoken to anyone about how they have been finding it difficult to cope.

Santander UK commissioned the research to highlight the impact of loneliness and the need to support those who are struggling. To help those in need of a friendly chat, Santander UK employees are signing up as volunteers(3) to make social phone calls to lonely and vulnerable people in the community through Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society. In turn, the Santander Foundation will donate £1,000 to Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society (split equally between the two charities) for every employee who takes part in this and other volunteering initiatives, up to £1million. So far, more than 1000 colleagues have signed up.

As part of its research to understand what would help those who felt lonely, the bank asked people what would cheer them up most to talk about when they felt down. Most popular (31%) was a conversation about their favourite TV programmes and movies, followed by a chat about what their caller or visitor has been up to lately (26%), or to talk about hobbies (25%).  Only five per cent would feel cheered by a chat about politics!

Sue Willis, Trustee of Santander Foundation said: “It’s clear that during lockdown many people have been affected by loneliness and isolation. It is heartbreaking to see the impact it has had on some people’s lives and friendships. We are very proud to be working with Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society to support the fantastic work they do to support older people and those living with dementia during this difficult time.

“While coronavirus has put the spotlight on some of these issues of loneliness, we are committed to providing long term support for vulnerable people in our communities who suffer from loneliness through our work with the charities.”

Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society give some top tips for those making social phone calls to vulnerable people

First impressions count
The first 30 seconds of your conversation are crucial, so smile while you speak – even if they can’t see you - to help your voice express your interest, enthusiasm and confidence.

Have a friendly chat
Rather than bombarding them with questions, listen out for things that spark their interest. You’re there for a friendly chat, not an interview!

Chat about the past
Ask about the past and what life was like growing up instead of talking about the current situation. It’ll lead to better conversations.

Take your time
If the person you are chatting to is struggling to hear you clearly, try speaking more slowly rather than upping the volume.

That awkward silence
Don’t worry about long pauses in conversation. It gives everyone time to gather their thoughts.

- Ends -

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Notes to Editors
1 - Research undertaken with OnePoll between 17 and 19 June 2020, among 2,000 UK adults. Weighted to be nationally representative.

2 - In addition to donating up to £1million to Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK as part of the employee volunteering campaign, the Santander Foundation donated a further £2million to the charities following the outbreak of coronavirus. The donations of up to £3million are split equally between the two charities.

3 – As well as signing up to make social phone calls through Age UK and Alzheimer’s Society, Santander UK employees’ volunteer work includes distributing support leaflets, delivering groceries, helping older people get online and develop their digital skills, and becoming ‘Dementia Friends’.

In addition to the volunteering campaign, Santander UK is involved in a broad set of community-focused initiatives. These include:
- Branch employees making tens of thousands of wellbeing phone calls to customers aged 65+, who haven’t been able to get to their local branch because of the pandemic. These phone calls comprise informal conversations focused on checking the customer is coping, to provide reassurance that we're available to help if they need some support, and to suggest relevant charities and organisations if they express a need for support beyond banking.
- Santander UK is the first high street bank to launch a series of free Virtual Scam Awareness Events that cover the most prevalent types of scams and fraud. Available to everyone through Santander UK’s events website, the half-hour sessions provide tips and advice on what to look out for and how to protect yourself from this type of crime. With classes running throughout the week and weekend, specially trained colleagues deliver the sessions over online video conferencing, with time built in for question and answer sessions.
- Allowing a customer’s chosen family member or trusted friend to help manage their Santander account for day-to-day activities like shopping or accessing cash. This third party access is designed to provide short term help to customers, or where a Power of Attorney isn't the right option, such as when they are going into hospital, or if they are an older customer who may find banking difficult or confusing and need support.
- Supporting victims of financial abuse by providing customers who reach out to us with guidance on charities they can turn to for help. Customers who are victims of financial abuse can talk to us in branch, call us, or use the online chat. In extreme cases, we can alert local authorities on the customer's behalf, or if we are concerned for their safety.

Santander UK is a financial services provider in the UK that offers a wide range of personal and commercial financial products and services. At 30 December 2019, the bank had around 23,500 employees and serves around 14 million active customers, via a nationwide branch network, telephone, mobile and online banking. Santander UK is subject to the full supervision of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) in the UK. Santander UK plc customers’ eligible deposits are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in the UK.

Banco Santander (SAN SM, STD US, BNC LN) is a leading retail and commercial bank, founded in 1857 and headquartered in Spain. It has a meaningful presence in 10 core markets in Europe and the Americas, and is one of the largest banks in the world by market capitalization. Its purpose is to help people and businesses prosper in a simple, personal and fair way. Santander is building a more responsible bank and has made a number of commitments to support this objective, including raising over €120 billion in green financing between 2019 and 2025, as well as financially empowering more than 10 million people over the same period. At the end of the first quarter of 2020, Banco Santander had a trillion euros in total funds, 146 million customers, of which 21.3 million are loyal and 38.3 million are digital, 11,900 branches and 195,000 employees. Banco Santander made underlying profit of €1,977 million in the first quarter of 2020, an increase of 1% compared to the same period of last year.

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