Tackling social isolation and loneliness: consultation analysis

Analysis of responses to our 'Connected Scotland: tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger communities' consultation.

2. Introduction


As stated in its draft strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness, Scotland aspires to be a country where individuals and communities are more connected and everyone has the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships regardless of age, status, circumstances or identity. Extensive literature exists on the role connections play in the experience of social isolation and loneliness, and the repercussions on individuals, communities and societies of a lack of connections. Without meaningful and satisfying social connections, people may face powerful negative physical and psychological consequences, including low life satisfaction[1], declined cognitive functioning[2] and increased risk of dementia[3] and depression[4]. NHS Health Scotland's evidence review[5] revealed that Scottish people are susceptible to these consequences, with 11% of adults in Scotland often feeling lonely, and 38% feeling lonely sometimes. In addition, 6% of adults have contact with family, friends or neighbours less than once or twice a week and 18% of people have limited regular social contact in their neighbourhoods[6].

The consequences are far reaching, going beyond the individual and immediate communities, to the societal level. The negative mental and physical health impacts of social isolation and loneliness have a financial cost. Kantar Public's UK-wide research[7] for the Red Cross highlighted the negative impact on communities and society, such as people withdrawing from communities and having reduced productivity at work.

More still needs to be done to understand the scope and scale of the issue, and the combination of preventative, responsive and restorative support needed to respond to the highly individualistic and often unpredictable experience of social isolation and loneliness. The Scottish Government laid out its understanding of this issue, its vision and priorities for tackling social isolation and loneliness in Scotland through its draft strategy following the last Scottish Parliament's Equal Opportunities Committee Inquiry into Age and Social Isolation[8]. The public engagement consultation to obtain views on this draft strategy ran from 16 January 2018 to 27 April 2018. The aim of the consultation was to help the Scottish Government to:

  • assess whether the public agrees with the way social isolation and loneliness is framed,
  • better understand what needs to change in communities to tackle this urgent social issue, and
  • identify what local and government leaders can do to create the conditions to allow social connections to flourish.

The Scottish Government commissioned Kantar Public to review, synthesise and analyse the responses submitted for the consultation. This report summarises the key findings and themes.


The research had two aims:

  • Analyse written responses to the social isolation and loneliness draft strategy and set out key themes that emerge from the responses, highlighting trends in responses, level of consensus, and drawing out any differences (where relevant) by respondents (e.g. individuals or organisations)
  • Synthesise findings from responses into a presentation and written report, including an overview and discussion of main themes that emerge


The public submitted responses in three ways: (i) via the Scottish Government's online citizen space platform; (ii) with a toolkit provided by the Scottish Government for community groups to facilitate group responses; and (iii) through a series of 17 public engagement events across Scotland. The consultation produced 419 responses to 26 questions[9] from both individuals and organisations, as well as event summaries from 17 public participation events. Kantar Public conducted a robust and systematic analysis of each of these submission types.

Figure 1: Overview of research approach

Figure 1: Overview of research approach

The first stage of analysis was to review the consultation responses received to understand the content and composition of the responses before developing the analysis framework. The second stage used a content analysis method known as framework analysis. After reviewing the consultation responses and familiarising ourselves with the data, the research team created an analysis framework to capture both anticipated and new themes. The research team tested and refined the analysis framework to avoid duplication, and used the final version of the framework to synthesise the consultation responses.

Following synthesis of the responses and further analysis, the research team held an analysis brainstorm to interrogate emerging findings and identify key themes and patterns from across the data. Finally, the research team conducted targeted analysis to identify connections and differences by groups, where possible.

Reading this report

There are a number of considerations to keep in mind when reading this report. First, views from online responses were similar to those captured in the public participation events, though the online responses had greater specificity. Consequently, in this report we do not differentiate between the mechanism for capturing responses in the findings. Where relevant, we do distinguish between individual views and responses from organisations. The consultation format did not require respondents to submit demographic details, which limited our ability to conduct sub-group analysis. Where demographic information was provided, this is highlighted in the report. Finally, it is important to note responses came from individuals and organisations representing both local and national perspectives. Response ranged from general to specialist, with some responses very narrowly focused on a specific issue or area of interest.

The absence of an issue or sub-group does not mean it is not important or within scope for this consultation, but rather that it was not submitted by those that took part in the public consultation. The report findings are not exhaustive and do not include every view shared in the consultation. Using rigorous and systematic analysis methods in line with professional standards and guidelines, the research team has made judgements about the main issues raised in consultation responses. This report presents the results of this synthesis and analysis, and it describes the most prominent themes in the data. The findings are thus reflective of the view and experiences of people who responded to the consultation, rather than the general public.

Throughout the report, verbatim quotes (appearing in italics) and examples are used to illustrate findings. As these are taken from the consultation responses, they should be taken as indicative of the responses submitted rather than representative of the views and practices across the population of Scotland.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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