Co-op Foundation research finds loneliness is contributing to poor mental wellbeing for millions of young people

  • One Small Step, new research from the Co-op Foundation shows the impact of loneliness on young people’s mental wellbeing
  • It follows Co-op’s report, Shadow on a young generation, that found children as young as 10 feel permanently disadvantaged by pandemic

1.9 million young people feel chronically lonely* and 85% of these say loneliness is negatively impacting on their mental wellbeing, according to new research from Co-op’s charity, the Co-op Foundation.

Researchers for ‘One Small Step’ spoke to 2,001 10 to 25-year-olds UK-wide. A total of 15% of the young people they spoke to said they feel lonely often or always, a rise of nearly 400,000 from August 2020.

Almost nine in 10 (85%) of this group agreed loneliness has negatively impacted on their mental wellbeing while seven in 10 (70%) said it made them less able to perform well in school or work.

Findings reveal the impacts of loneliness are not just limited to those who are most lonely. Seven in 10 (71%) of 10 to 25-year-olds are lonely at least occasionally. Of those, three quarters (76%) say loneliness made them more worried or anxious.

But there are positives as lonely young people show co-operative values of solidarity and caring for others to support their peers. Three fifths of all young people who feel lonely (61%) say it’s made them think more about other people’s feelings while the same proportion (61%) say it’s made them want to help other lonely young people.

In addition, eight out of 10 young people (79%) have taken an action to help other lonely young people and over half (56%) of young people would be comfortable taking an action to raise awareness of youth loneliness.

In other findings:

  • Young people who have ever had free school meals are twice as likely to be chronically lonely compared to those who haven’t (20% compared to 10%)
  • A quarter of young people (24%) believe if you’re lonely, it’s your own fault
  • Half of all lonely young people (50%) say loneliness makes them less likely to want to help out in their local community

Today’s report is released as we continue work on year three of our Lonely Not Alone campaign to tackle the stigma of youth loneliness. This campaign is co-designed with young people and will launch on 14 October to build empathy and understanding of loneliness. Find out how to get involved by subscribing to the newsletter at

One Small Step follows the Co-op’s ‘Shadow on a young generation’ report that found children as young as 10 feel permanently disadvantaged by pandemic.

Nick Crofts, Co-op Foundation Chief Executive, said:

“The Co-op Foundation has been committed to helping lonely young people thrive for the past five years but despite our best efforts – and the inspiring work of our partners – our ‘One Small Step’ report shows there’s more to do.

“We are concerned that chronic youth loneliness has risen by almost a quarter over the past year. The UK will only be able to recover from the dreadful impacts of the pandemic if we support young people.

“We look forward to continuing our work with government, youth organisations and other funders to tackle youth loneliness, and its direct impact on young people’s wellbeing and skills. Small steps from us all could lead to giant leaps forward for a generation of young people.”

Nathan, 17, is currently helping to design the Co-op Foundation’s Lonely Not Alone campaign. He said:

“I think this research really does represent how young people are feeling. However, it’s important to understand that loneliness is individual, and feelings of loneliness can come and go.

“Life can be very isolating, but one thing that’s important to remember is that you are not alone. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to remind people through the Lonely Not Alone campaign.”

Since 2017, we have awarded more than £6.5m to youth projects that connect and empower young people and helped to build networks and resources to support youth workers.

Lonely Not Alone will launch on 14 October. Find out what’s planned by subscribing to the newsletter at or following on Twitter.

*The One Small Step report used the ONS loneliness measure when asking young people about loneliness. Chronically lonely young people are classed as those who said they felt lonely “often or always” to the question ‘How often do you feel lonely?”.


The research for the report was conducted by Opinium who surveyed a sample of 2,001 10 -25 years old between16 and 23 August 2021.

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