About We all need friends campaign

What is this campaign all about?

'We all need friends' is a major new campaign by Sense looking at overcoming barriers faced by people with disabilities in making and sustaining friendships.

Calling for a national debate around the subject, Sense is warning that many people with disabilities face being cut off from society with nearly a quarter of them (23 per cent) lonely on a typical day.

'A right to friendship?' report
We asked just over a thousand people with a range of disabilities about their experiences of friendship. We also looked at the particular obstacles facing people who are deafblind and make some recommendations for change. Download our 'A right to friendship?' report (PDF 2.3MB) or 'A right to friendship' report in (WORD 5MB)

While there has been extensive analysis around loneliness and older people as their circle of friends dwindle over time, many people with disabilities have very few opportunities to make friends in the first place. Their ability to get out and about is often difficult and compounded by recent cuts to social care. For the many people who are deafblind that Sense supports, communication and mobility can also be a major issue.

Text FRIEND to 70100 to give £3Sense warns that an estimated 700,000 people with disabilities across the UK have no friends at all. Sense’s polling also suggests that more than half of people with disabilities (52 per cent) and more than three quarters of those aged 18 to 34 (78 per cent) feel they face greater barriers than people without disabilities in making and sustaining friendships.

Combined with recent research suggesting one fifth (21 per cent) of 18 to 34-year-olds admit that they have actually avoided talking to a disabled person because they weren’t sure how to communicate with them, we believe the isolation of people with disabilities and the obstacles they face in making friends needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency.

Sense Deputy Chief Executive Richard Kramer says:

“Friendships are among the most valuable relationships we have and are important for people’s health and wellbeing.  While there has been extensive analysis around loneliness and older people as their circle of friends reduce over time, our work shows that many people with disabilities have very few opportunities to make friends in the first place. People with disabilities are deeply worried about the lack of opportunities and the barriers to friendship - whether it’s communication issues, a lack of transport or social groups to join.  So far, there has been little analysis of the subject of friendship, particularly for young people and adults with disabilities.

“We want to start a national debate looking at the obstacles and what can be done to overcome them. People with disabilities need to be visible, be allowed to play a full part in society and be given the same opportunities to make friends as everyone else.”

What will the campaign entail?

Sense's 'We all need friends' campaign is a year-long attempt to highlight the obstacles people with disabilities face including communication, transport, accessible buildings and limitations on social care. We will also explore what opportunities there are for disabled people to meet people, profile good practice, engage with stakeholders and look to raise public awareness, as well as highlight individual stories from the support we support.

Three-quarters of young
people with disabilities feel it is
harder to make friends

Key findings

Polling commissioned on behalf of Sense by Opinium Research to launch the campaign highlights the problems faced by many people with disabilities. Out of a survey of over one thousand people with disabilities:

  • More than half feel there are more barriers to making and keeping friends, rising to more than three quarters for people aged 18 to 34
  • Six per cent - the equivalent of 700,000 people - say they have no friends at all
  • Nearly one in four people with disabilities (23 per cent) feel lonely on a typical day, rising to 38 per cent for people aged 18 to 34
  • 37 per cent of respondents - the equivalent of 4.3 million people – reported seeing friends once a month or less

What people say would make the difference

  • More than four out of ten people with disabilities (41 per cent) said that being able to get out and about more would enable them to see friends more often
  • One in five said accessible transport would help them to meet up with friends more
  • One in six said that local support and social groups would make a difference

Barriers facing people with disabilities

People told us of the particular barriers they face, including:

  • A lack of communication support to enable them to meet up with friends
  • Problems with mobility and being able to get out and about
  • Lack of access to college or work
  • Not enough understanding amongst support workers and / or care professionals in how to support friendship for a person with a sensory impairment
  • Lack of understanding from others in how communicate with them

Sue Turner lives in Essex and has two adult sons who are deafblind. Ben, and Luke. Ben is deaf and partially sighted. Luke is deafblind and in a wheelchair. He also has scoliosis and quadriplegia. They both have learning disabilities. For people with complex disabilities friendship can be an even greater challenge.

Sue says: 

“My son Ben has never had a true friend of his own. Friendship is about a mutual exchange, both people need to benefit and for Ben finding that is incredibly hard, because he has no speech and uses sign language to communicate.”

What are the solutions?

Sense is calling for a range of solutions to help improve the opportunities for people with disabilities to make friends, including:

  • Local authorities must commission more services that support the establishment and maintenance of friendships for people with disabilities. Traditional befriending services have been developed to tackle isolation and loneliness facing older people.    Sense is calling for the development of  ‘buddying schemes’ for individuals and social prescribing schemes for groups 
  • Providing increased opportunities to meet with other people – both with and without disabilities - with similar interests
  • Providers that  are commissioned to support people with complex disabilities living in supported accommodation and care homes should be expected to demonstrate how they support people to  maximise their opportunities for friendship and to be a visible part of their local community 
  • Different providers that support people with disabilities should be expected to pool their resources and facilities locally to maximise opportunities for them to come together and establish friendships
  • Public education to help inform the general public about disability and the challenges faced by people with disabilities
  • Greater promotion of asset-based approaches such as time credits that create more opportunities for volunteers in the local community and people with disabilities to spend time together with shared activities (for example programmes run by SPICE)
  • Tourist venues, such as music venues should provide better access for visitors with disabilities

A right to friendship? report

Download the report in PDF)
Download the report in (WORD)

We all need friends' logo depicting cartoon characters of all ages

First published: Tuesday 17 February 2015
Updated: Monday 15 February 2016