Demos - Reading can help halt loneliness epidemic, says new report

6 Nov 2018 09:09 AM

Reading can help halt loneliness epidemic, says new report

A new report, entitled A Society of Readers, from leading think tank Demos and commissioned by national charity, The Reading Agency, finds a significant body of evidence to show that reading can help to combat the growing issue of loneliness, as well as acting as a tool to protect future generations from the loneliness epidemic. With nine million people in the UK currently feeling lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’, the research shines a light on the benefits of using reading as a form of social connection, in order to help radically improve the state of our isolated nation.

The Reading Agency runs a wide range of programmes for all age groups to tackle life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading. The report is calling on the government to implement a range of reading-related policies and urges the BBC to play an active role in a public awareness campaign to create a ‘society of readers’. One of Demos’s recommendations is for a £200 million fund for reading-related loneliness interventions, while another calls for the creation of ‘Book Relief’, a national high-profile fundraising event, along the lines of Sport Relief, to showcase the proven power of reading and raise money for charities offering reading-based interventions.

Polly Mackenzie, Chief Executive of Demos, commented: “The central message of this report is that the nation’s perception of reading must change. It should become a strategic social objective for us all – state, market and civil society, to work towards becoming a ‘society of readers’. Reading may not seem like a radical solution to solving some of the biggest issues of this generation, however this report proves that reading can train our brains and hold off dementia, help us foster connections with other people and alleviate loneliness and depression. It’s no exaggeration to say that reading can transform British society.”

The report coincides with the launch of a new programme from The Reading Agency called Reading Friends, funded by the Big Lottery Fund. By sharing stories in groups or one to one sessions, Reading Friends empowers and engages older people who are vulnerable and isolated, including people with dementia and carers. An evaluation of the test phase showed that a staggering 88 per cent of participants appreciated the increased social contact from reading inspired conversations. The same percentage felt they added purpose to their week. Building on the initial success of the programme, The Reading Agency plans to expand Reading Friends for national rollout in 2020.

Previous research has found that reading groups can provide a route out of social isolation for young mothers, who are particularly susceptible to loneliness, with many saying reading helps to foster conversation. In addition, 95 per cent of people who are blind or partially sighted read at least once a week to alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

As well as revealing how reading can be used as an intervention for loneliness, the report explores how reading can benefit wellbeing and mental health, by regulating mood, exercising the brain, and providing an effective form of support for depression, anxiety and anger issues – for example, through self help books. The report recommends that the NHS should encourage Clinical Commissioning Groups to invest more in book-based interventions as part of its social prescribing strategy and fund the provision of book based therapies in libraries across the country. Social mobility can also be positively influenced through reading; it breeds important life skills, which translate into greater opportunities in life. The report suggests that, in order to build a more productive, creative and fairer society, access to reading needs to be made universal and common for all.

Sue Wilkinson, Chief Executive of The Reading Agency said: “Demos’s predictions for 2030 offer a desperately concerning outlook. If we don’t start to tackle issues of loneliness, mental health and social mobility now, then we will continue to put pressure on our vital workforces such as the care sector and the NHS. The forecasts for the loneliness epidemic are particularly shocking, but reading can be part of the solution: as this report demonstrates, it is not only an essential life skill but has huge power to bring people together to combat loneliness among all age groups. Through reading-based national interventions, we can futureproof our society, and ultimately use reading to help protect younger generations at risk of rising levels of loneliness. We have already seen through our Reading Friends programme that social reading can have profound impact on older people who are often the most vulnerable in society. We hope these benefits will eventually be opened up to everyone.”

For further information, please contact Katy Garland or Aga Maciejewska on 0203 696 5800 or

Notes to Editors

About Demos Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think-tank: an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research.

About The Reading Agency

The Reading Agency is a national charity that tackles life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading. We work closely with partners to develop and deliver programmes for people of all ages and backgrounds. The Reading Agency is funded by Arts Council England.

Reading Friends is a nationwide programme developed by The Reading Agency and funded by the Big Lottery Fund. The programme is delivered in partnership with organisations across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Reading Friends is an intergenerational programme that empowers, and connects people experiencing loneliness by starting conversations through reading.

Spokespeople from The Reading Agency and Demos available on request.

Reading case studies available on request.

Methodology of the report

Demos conducted a literature review on the impact of reading, including scientific and grey literature. The literature review concerned both the impact of reading habits and the impact of specific reading interventions. In addition, the report includes a forecasting framework, building on existing data, to assess the size and impact of loneliness, dementia, mental health problems and social mobility by 2030. Existing trends were projected into the future and matched with estimates for cost and impact.

The 2018 evaluation of Reading Friends is available here: