An estimated 16 million UK adults saw less of their friends and family during the cost of living crisis, Which? warns, putting many people’s mental wellbeing at risk.
A Which? survey of nearly 4,000 UK adults found that three in 10 (31%) said they saw less of friends and family due to financial pressures during the cost of living crisis. This equates to an estimated 16 million UK adults.
One woman from the Midlands earning less than £10,000 a year said they are “unable to travel to see family members due to cost of fuel [and are] not socialising as it is too expensive.”
Worryingly, almost half (48%) of those surveyed also said they spent more time at home during the cost of living crisis. This equates to an estimated 26 million UK adults.
The sacrifices of cutting back on seeing family and friends and staying at home to save money is contributing to many feeling more isolated and lonely. Four out of 10 (40%) said they became more distant from their friends and a quarter (25%) of people in a relationship said they experienced significant strain on their relationship with their partner due to the cost of living crisis.
One woman earning £10,000 – £14,999 a year said: “The cost of living has made me stop enjoying going out and attending social events, causing me to be a lot more isolated from human contact and my sense of loneliness and anxiety has increased exponentially.”
One man earning £20,000 – £34,999 a year said: “I no longer have a life, I merely exist. It’s miserable, depressing and I’m isolated from my friends as I can no longer afford to go out with them.”
Which?’s research also found that some age groups were more likely than others to feel socially isolated. Younger adults aged 18-34 were almost twice as likely to feel distant from friends than those aged over 55 – with half (50%) of 18-34 years olds saying they felt this way compared to just over a quarter (27%) of those aged 55 or older.
Younger adults were also three times as likely to experience strains in their relationship. Nearly four in 10 (37%) of 18-34 year olds said their relationship with their partner was under significant strain due to the cost of living crisis compared to one in eight (12%) of those aged over 55.
This is likely because younger people often have larger existing networks and spend more time socialising than older people. As a result, they may have felt the impact of not being able to see friends more acutely.
People with children at home were also likely to experience feelings of isolation and loneliness compared to those without. Almost half (48%) of those with children at home reported they felt distant from friends compared to four in 10 (40%) of those without and just over a quarter (27%) of those with grown-up children who no longer live at home.
Similarly, a quarter (26%) of those with children at home said their relationship with their partner was under significant strain due to the cost of living crisis compared to one in five (22%) of those without and one in 10 (11%) of those with grown-up children who no longer live at home.
This is likely because those with young children are not able to go out with their friends or partners as much as they need to find childcare. With childcare costs also rising, those with young children could find it even more difficult to socialise. They are also likely to feel additional strains on their relationship from the heavier financial burdens of having more dependents.
Despite inflation easing in recent months, many households are still struggling to make ends meet. With winter and higher energy bills fast-approaching, both government and businesses must carefully consider how best to support those most in need to avoid further financial and emotional harm.
Which? is calling on essential businesses – energy firms, broadband providers and supermarkets – to do more to help their customers and ensure they are providing value for money. For example, supermarkets need to make budget line items widely available, particularly in convenience stores, energy firms need to ensure their customer service departments are fully staffed and able to support any customers who are struggling to make ends meet and telecoms firms need to properly advertise their social tariffs to eligible customers.
If people are missing or struggling to afford essential payments – such as energy, credit card or mortgage payments – then they should speak to their provider immediately for help.
Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:
“It’s hugely concerning that millions of people have been isolated from their loved ones during the cost of living crisis – putting their mental and emotional wellbeing at risk.
“The government and businesses must do everything in their power to support those struggling to make ends meet and protect them from further financial and emotional harm.
“With colder weather fast-approaching, Which? is calling on businesses in essential sectors, like food, energy and telecoms, to do more to help customers get a good deal and avoid unnecessary or unfair costs and charges.”
Notes to editors
Which? cost of living campaign
The consumer champion is running a campaign calling on businesses in essential sectors – supermarkets, telecoms and energy – to do more to help their customers through the cost of living crisis. More information on the campaign is available here.
Basis on behalf of Which? surveyed 4,000 nationally representative consumers within the UK in March 2023 to understand the impacts of the cost of living crisis, and how it has influenced consumer behaviour.
The 16 million and 26 million UK adults figures were scaled up to population level using mid-2021 ONS estimates of the number of UK adults above 18 years old.
The research article will be available here.
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
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