Disabled people in Britain today face huge social barriers and are at risk from being cut off from society, a leading charity has warned.
New research commissioned by the national disability charity Sense, which supports and campaigns for people who are deafblind, found that 23% of disabled people feel lonely on most days, rising to 38% for young disabled people.
Almost one in four disabled adults (23%) said changes to welfare benefits, and the tightening of social care eligibility, have made it more difficult to socialise and maintain friendships.
29% reported only being able to meet up with friends once a month or less. While 6% said they had no friends at all.
More than four in ten disabled people (41%) said that being able to live more independently would allow them to see their friends more often. And 22% said an improvement in accessible public transport would make it easier to leave the home and socialise with friends.
Hayley Reed lost her eyesight twelve years ago and has been a wheelchair user for 24 years.
“As a younger person friendship is a really important issue for me but it’s awfully hard to make friends”, she said.
“I see friends once a month which helps but sometimes you might have had a bad day and just want to talk to somebody. When you’ve got a disability, it’s just not that easy.
“I’ve got a physical disability as well as the sight and hearing loss but the sensory impairments take over from the physical as they’re very isolating. When you’ve got all three, it puts another barrier up.”
Sense Deputy Chief Executive Richard Kramer said: “Friendships are among the most valuable relationships we have and are important for people’s health and well-being.
“While there has been extensive analysis around loneliness and older people as their circle of friends reduce over time, our work shows that many disabled people 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.
“Disabled people 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.”
Sense is calling for improvements in the opportunities available for disabled people to help them meet more people and build friendships.
The charity has made the following recommendations:
- Local authorities should 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 disabled and non-disabled – 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.
- Public education to help inform the general public about disability and the challenges faced by disabled people.
- Tourist venues, such as entertainment venues should provide better access for disabled visitors.
The Office of Disability Issues estimate that there are 11.6 million disabled people in the UK. 5.7 million are working age adults, 5.1 million are over state pension age and 0.8 million are children.
There are 1.6 million in UK with a communication impairment, which includes those who are deafblind or have a dual sensory impairment. 250,000 disabled people in the UK are deafblind.