One in four Brits admit to avoiding conversations with disabled people

11 July 2017

Photo of smiling woman with graphic that reads "I felt left out of group discussions" - Erin. Logo says Jo Cox Loneliness. Start a conversation

Research launched today, by Sense, reveals that disabled people in the UK are still being marginalised by negative public attitudes – with a quarter (26%) of Brits admitting that they have avoided conversations with disabled people.

Only half (52%) of those responding to the study believed that they had much in common with disabled people; whilst ’fear of causing offence’ (30%), ‘feeling uncomfortable’ (20%) or ‘not knowing what to talk about’ (17%) with disabled people were the most commonly cited reasons for avoiding conversations.

The research, conducted as part of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, is part of the coalition’s work to highlight the disproportionately high levels of loneliness amongst disabled people; one in two (53%) of whom report feeling lonely, and just under a quarter (23%) say that they experience loneliness on a typical day.

Young adults, under the age of 24, were revealed to be twice as likely (50%) to have avoided conversations with disabled people, contributing to the increased risk of social isolation for their disabled peers, over three quarters (77%) of whom report loneliness. Young adults were also found to be the least likely to meet disabled people, with a quarter (23%) of those surveyed unable to recall the last time they encountered someone with a disability

Sense is a founding partner of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, chaired by Rachel Reeves MP and Seema Kennedy MP, which aims to start a national conversation on the ‘silent epidemic’ of isolation across the UK. Over the next month, Sense will lead a coalition of 21 disability charities to shine a spotlight on the issue of loneliness for disabled people and the steps that can be taken to help tackle it.

Rachel Reeves MP, Co-chair of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, said:

“Many of the barriers to building social connections for disabled people are practical ones, such as the need for accessible transport and buildings, financial support and appropriate social care; but public attitudes also play a part in the risk of loneliness for people with disability.

“Increasing awareness of different conditions and battling misconceptions about disability are both important steps to help reduce loneliness amongst disabled people.”

Seema Kennedy MP, Co-chair of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, said:

“Jo Cox strongly believed that ‘we have far more in common than that which divides us’. However, disabled people are often marginalised from friendship because of poor levels of public understanding. These misconceptions can sometimes cause people to assume that they won’t have much in common with someone who has a disability, and in some cases can even prevent individuals from engaging in conversations with disabled people altogether.

“To help fight loneliness, it is vital that we all focus on our similarities rather than our differences. We can all create connections, find common interests and form friendships by taking the time to start a conversation”

Sense Deputy CEO, Richard Kramer, said:

"Loneliness is disproportionally high amongst disabled people, many of whom say they feel lonely every single day.

“We all have things in common; however, outdated attitudes towards disability are still preventing people from striking up conversations and finding the shared interests that are often the key to friendship. Better understanding of disability and a shift in societal awareness are a key step in allowing disabled people to play a full part in society with the same opportunities to make connections as everybody else.”

‘Someone Cares If I’m Not There’, a new Sense report examining the issue of loneliness for disabled people, will be launched at a Parliament tomorrow afternoon [12th July 2017]. To view the report or for more information on the month’s activities, please visit

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Notes to editors:

2,074 people were surveyed in the new research conducted by YouGov, on behalf of the national disability charity Sense

The research coincides with the publication of a new Sense report that puts forth a set of recommendations for national and local government, as well as the voluntary sector, to tackle loneliness and social isolation for disabled people.

Key recommendations from the Someone Cares If I’m Not There report, which will be launched at Parliament tomorrow afternoon, include:

  • Tackling social attitudes - Voluntary sector organisations and the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) should deliver public awareness campaigns to promote increased understanding and acceptance of disabled people.

  • Professional training - Professionals should be aware of the risk and impact loneliness, and provide specific support to help disabled people develop and maintain social networks.
    Improving access to services - Good quality social care support in the home and community can support people to remain independent and fully engaged in their communities.

  • Investment in intervention services - Local authorities must recognise the importance of preventative intervention services such as buddying schemes and day centres.

  • Accessible transport - The Department for Transport should ensure that transport is accessible to all, and local authorities should ensure that there is a sufficiency of accessible transport, especially in small towns and rural areas.

  • Financial support - Department for Work and Pensions needs to ensure that rates of financial support provided by the welfare benefits system are set at a rate that allows people to remain independent, retain social connections and participate fully in society.

  • Access to employment - Better support and access to employment opportunities can be a key way to prevent loneliness for disabled people. They should be able to access personalised and tailored employment support, which is optional and appropriate.

As founder members of the Commission, Sense has brought together a coalition of disability charities to collectively highlight the issue of loneliness for disabled people, and to call for action.  We are working with the following partner organisations:

  • Action on Hearing Loss
  • Action for Children
  • Age UK
  • Alzheimer’s Society
  • Ambitious about Autism
  • Beyond Words
  • British Red Cross
  • Guide Dogs
  • Headway
  • Leonard Cheshire
  • Macmillan
  • Mencap
  • Mental Health Foundation
  • Mind
  • The National Autistic Society
  • National Aids Trust
  • National Deaf Children’s Society
  • Parkinson’s UK
  • RNIB
  • Scope
  • Young Minds