Charity reveals 'devastating impact' of loneliness on UK parents, children

Posted by Media team / Monday 06 November 2017 / Press release
Loneliness child 3
  • New Action for Children poll reveals more than half of UK parents have suffered from loneliness – a fifth in the past week.
  • More than two-thirds feel ‘cut off’ from friends and family since having children.
  • Nearly two-thirds worry their child is lonely some or all the time.
  • More than a third of children say they have felt lonely in the last week.
  • Working with the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, Action for Children today launches the #startswithhello campaign to encourage communities to connect, build relationships and provide support for parents and children suffering from loneliness and isolation.

More than half (52 per cent) of UK parents have suffered from loneliness – with a fifth (21 per cent) having felt lonely in the last week, according to a new poll¹ released today (Monday 6 November) by Action for Children.

Commissioned to launch the charity’s month-long partnership with the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, the Survation survey of more than 2,000 parents also found that more than two-thirds (68 per cent) felt they had become ‘cut off’ from friends and family since having children, and a similar number (61 per cent) worry their child is lonely some or all the time.

And in a poll of more than 500 UK children, more than a third (39 per cent) also said they had felt lonely in the past week.2 Comments from those children who were surveyed included, ‘I find social situations stressful which means I often hang around on my own,’ and ‘Every day at my old school was bad because people bullied me.’

Sustained loneliness can have a significant and often life-long impact on mental and physical health. As well as contributing to stress, anxiety, paranoia, depression and heart disease in young people, there is also a link with lower academic achievement.

Chief executive of Action for Children, Sir Tony Hawkhead, said: “From a toddler who seldom meets people because of their mother’s anxiety, to a young man in his twenties afraid to leave his room in a homeless hostel, we know from our services across the UK the devastating impact loneliness can have on the lives of children, young people and families.

“Now is the time to raise the volume on this issue and ensure much-needed research, funding and support is put in place. Whilst part of the solution lies with funders and policy makers, there is a role for every one of us in addressing this epidemic in our communities.”

Co-chairs of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, MPs Rachel Reeves and Seema Kennedy, said: “Our friend Jo Cox said, ‘Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate’, and this survey highlights that fact. The worrying thing is the impact this parental loneliness then has on families and young people in particular.

“Feeling lonely for long periods can be linked to poor mental and physical health – equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Jo recognised the need to start a national conversation about loneliness and it’s essential that charities like Action for Children continue that conversation and highlight the issues.”

Haley Minns, 34, from Hunstanton in Norfolk, suffered from loneliness and anxiety after the birth of her first child. She found help after being referred to an Action for Children support worker who encouraged her to speak to her GP and start attending baby massage3 classes with her son.

“My husband and I had a lovely life, both working full time, just looking forward to welcoming our baby”, said Haley.

“But everything I was looking forward to turned out to be a totally different experience to what I expected.  I’d thought I would be at my happiest, but actually it was so hard. I couldn’t get out the house because I was so anxious. All my friends had babies at the same time, but to me, it felt like they were all doing better than me and I just shut myself off.”

Haley continued: “It was fear and a lack of control. And social media didn’t help at all - everyone there seemed to have these lovely babies who were settled and they could go out. I would literally sit by my son whilst he was napping and didn’t move. He was 14 weeks old and I hadn’t even been able to leave his side to have a shower without someone else being at home. Even when he was asleep I felt I couldn’t leave him so would just sit there. I hated the time I was having with my baby; it was such a lonely time for me.”

Haley’s story is echoed in the results of an online poll conducted by Mumsnet4 in which more than half (52 per cent) of those who said that loneliness was a problem for them felt that a lack of self-confidence contributed to their feelings of loneliness. The poll also found those with children under one were significantly more likely to feel lonely and nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of those who said that loneliness was a problem for them felt more lonely since becoming a parent.

Mumsnet founder and CEO Justine Roberts said: “Having a baby changes your life in many ways, not all of them as joyful as you might expect. Parents who responded to our survey told us that being out of work or on maternity leave and being short of cash contribute to loneliness, and of course these things are part and parcel of new parenthood for most. It’s a reminder that the transition to being a parent can be tough, and a little kindness can go a long way.”

To help mothers like Haley – and any parent, child or young person who is suffering from loneliness – Action for Children is launching its #startswithhello campaign, which aims to encourage others to reach out to their community and to make connections, starting with a simple ‘hello’ to help combat the isolation affecting so many in the UK. Whether with the offer of a coffee, play date or simply sharing online details of local groups and children’s centres that people can go to, we can all help.

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For case studies, interview opportunities and further information, including full copies of the surveys and the #startswithhello report, please contact Beth McDonald at Action for Children on 07940 441 770 / [email protected]

For out of hours enquiries, please ring 07802 806 679 or email [email protected]  

Please see notes below for details of upcoming key dates and activities Action for Children has planned with the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness throughout November.



¹ Survation, on behalf of Action for Children, interviewed 2,009 UK parents online from 8th - 14th September 2017. Survation is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules

2 First News Online Poll; 27th September 2017 – 28th October 2017, 516 respondents

3 Baby or infant massage is a type of complementary and alternative treatment that uses massage therapy for human infants. Studies have shown that massage performed on full-term infants is very beneficial to both infant and parents. It can be used as a means to bond with the infant for both mother and father.

4 The Mumsnet survey was open to all UK Mumsnetters who are parents. It was open from 6/9/17 to 20/9/17 and gained 1,166 responses. The data is not weighted, unless stated otherwise. For more details, see



Action for Children and the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness are working together throughout November to highlight the impact of loneliness and isolation on children, young people and families. Key dates and activity include:

13 – 19 November

Focusing on children this week we will be releasing a series of tips on how parents can spot if their child is feeling lonely or isolated. As part of National Bullying Week we also have blogs available from children who were bullied and how that caused them to feel socially isolated.


20 – 26 November

This week our children’s centres and nurseries will be hosting a Jo Cox Chat & Play Session for parents to meet other families within their communities and start a conversation. We also look at how social media can be both cause and cure when it comes to loneliness in young people.

  • 57% of parents said they felt lonely at the school gates and 59% also suffered at playgroups (1)
  • Nearly half of 11 – 16-year-olds find it easier to be themselves online than face-to-face and three in five said they would be lonely if they couldn’t talk to their friends via technology (2)
  • Yet four in 10 reported they had been bullied on-line in the last month (3)


27 November – 1 December

Research shows that anything that sets you apart from your peers can increase your chances of feeling isolated – we are talking to, and about, young carers, young parents and those with a disability about how this has happened to them and how Action for Children helped. Blogs and case studies are available from a young carer who started self-harming at 15 when the pressure became too much, to a teen who grew up with a violent father and mentally ill mother, to a teenage Mum who became so lonely and isolated she attempted to commit suicide.

  • In a 2015 survey more than nine-out-of-ten parents said their child did not have the same opportunity to play as their non-disabled peers. More than eight-out-of-10 said it was difficult to attend mainstream playgroups. (4)
  • Disabled children have fewer friends and participate less frequently in school activities (5).
  • Young carers have little access to wider support networks, impacting on friendships and their ability to spend time on social activities outside the home (6).
  • Nearly one-in-five young parents rarely or never see friends compared to one-in-ten non-parents of the same age (7).
  • Half of young Mums said they had become lonelier since becoming a mother, with a quarter leaving the house once a week or less (8).

(1) Mumsnet Survey 2017

(2) EU Kids Online, 2014/UK Safer Internet Centre 2015


(4) Sense, 2016

(5) Margalit, 2010; Public Health England 2015

(6) Clay and others, 2016

(7) Action for Children Next Steps Report, 2017

(8) Young Women’s Trust: What Matters to Mums, 2017

  • Action for Children helps children across the UK through fostering or adoption, by intervening early to stop neglect and abuse, by influencing policy, and by making life better for disabled children. With over 600 services the charity improves the lives of 370,000 children, young people and families every year. Visit
  • Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness -
  • Mumsnet is the UK’s largest network for parents, with over 12million unique visitors per month clocking up over 128 million page views. It has 170 local sites and a network of 10,000 bloggers and vloggers. It regularly campaigns on issues including support for families of children with special educational needs, improvements in postnatal and miscarriage care, and freedom of speech on the internet. For more details see