British public oblivious to the Armed Forces’ feelings of loneliness at Christmas

  • Nearly a quarter of Armed Forces personnel surveyed (24%) have felt lonely in the last week
  • Over two thirds (68%) of those polled who are serving spend Christmas on their own most years
  • Nearly a quarter (24%) of surveyed consumers aged 16-35 have felt lonely within the last 24 hours
  • Nearly 2 in 10 Brits (18%) spend Christmas on their own every year or most years
  • Dame Kelly Holmes comments on her own experience of loneliness – “there is always someone who will listen to you, you just have to have it within you to ask for it.”

A poll out today, by SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity has revealed that nearly a quarter (24%) of polled service personnel are experiencing loneliness in the lead up to Christmas this year. Yet the Nation is oblivious, with only 19% of Brits surveyed believing that serving personnel suffer from loneliness more than average in society.

Young people surveyed are also on the brink of a loneliness epidemic with nearly a quarter (24%) of those aged 16-35 having felt lonely within the last week. This contradicts the popular belief that the loneliest group in society are our older generation – with well over a half (59.1%) of Brits citing that single people over 70 living on their own are the worst hit. In fact, only 14% of over 55s surveyed felt lonely or isolated in the last week.

Christmas exacerbates feelings of loneliness, as pressure to enjoy picture-perfect moments builds. The statistics show that Christmas can be a difficult time for the general population. For GenY and Millennials on Civvy Street, Christmas time proves to be hard – with just under 4 in 10 claiming they feel lonelier than usual. Just under a third (31%) of Brits feel that Christmas brings an onset of more loneliness than usual. More surveyed women (34%) than men (28%) feel loneliness at Christmas.

For those surveyed in the military, well over two thirds (69%) said they felt lonelier than usual at Christmas*. Of those polled, over two thirds (68%) of those serving said that they spend Christmas without loved ones most years. Furthermore, nearly a half (48%) of those serving in the military believe that forces spouses are one of the groups suffering from loneliness more than average in society.

Colonel Dame Kelly Holmes, DBE comments:

“Whilst I was in the British Army, I was also training for the Olympics and heavily involved in athletics. There were moments where I would find myself all alone in my barracks, struggling with my emotions on my own and trying to find an escape.

“I realise now that you can get help if you ask for it. So when half of you is dying, and half of you is trying to live – because actually you know you can be good at something still, you have to fight and battle through that. And there is help out there, whether it’s reaching out to your local SSAFA branch or just talking to a family member or friend. There is always someone who will listen to you, you just have to have it within you to ask for it.”

Bill Grant, Forcesline Manager at SSAFA says:

“There’s a perception that the elderly are the most lonely group in society, but in reality isolation affects many of us. We can all feel alone, and Christmas can make this feel worse. Reaching out could be a daunting but life-changing first step.

“For the Forces community, I hear first-hand that this can be a difficult time. Whether deployed and away from home, or just struggling to adjust to civilian life, loneliness and isolation can hit those serving and their families, of all backgrounds.

“Knowing that there is someone to listen makes a difference. SSAFA supported 82,000 people last year and we are seeing a steady increase in this ‘need’. We want to encourage people to reach out to those who may be experiencing feelings of isolation at Christmas – a simple gesture can be all that it takes. Your support of SSAFA will help us to be there for even more members of the Forces family when in need.”

To help SSAFA provide every member of the Armed Forces family with practical, emotional and financial support at Christmas, and throughout the year, head to


Notes to editors

  • Survey carried out by Censuswide between 8-11 November 2019.
    1. Censuswide surveyed 2,060 general respondents in the UK
    2. Censuswide surveyed 254 respondents who are serving in the Armed Forces

*  This was calculated combining the respondents in the armed forces who either strongly agree or somewhat agree with the statement ‘I feel lonelier than usual at Christmas

SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, has been providing lifelong support to our Forces and their families since 1885. Last year our teams of volunteers and employees helped more than 82,000 people in need, from Second World War veterans to young men and women who have served in more recent conflicts, and their families. SSAFA understands that behind every uniform is a person. And we are here for that person – any time they need us, in any way they need us, for as long as they need us

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