Levels of loneliness during the Covid-19 pandemic have tended to be greater in areas with high concentrations of younger people and higher rates of unemployment, new figures suggest.
People in areas with higher crime rates or with higher levels of anxiety were also more likely to report feeling lonely.
Loneliness rates were lower in countryside areas compared with urban and industrial locations, however.
The figures, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), suggest 7.2% of the adult population of Britain felt lonely “often or always” between October 2020 and February 2021.
This is the equivalent of around 3.7 million people – up from 2.6 million, or 5.0% of the population, between April and May 2020.
North-east England recorded the highest loneliness rate of any region in England (8.7%), while eastern England recorded the lowest (6.5%).
In Wales, 8.3% of adults surveyed said they felt lonely “often or always”, compared with 7.3% in England and 6.5% in Scotland.
The ONS said places with a lower average age have generally experienced higher rates of loneliness during the pandemic, and that “higher rates of loneliness reported by young people are particularly associated with urban areas outside London”.
Living in a single-person household, difficulties with relationships caused by the pandemic, and not having anyone to talk to have also contributed to experiences of loneliness.
Figures for individual local authorities, where the sample size was large enough to ensure reliable estimates, show Tameside (15.1%), Leicester (14.3%) and Stoke-on-Trent (13.7%) as having the highest loneliness rates in Britain.
They are followed by Sandwell (13.6%), Nottingham (12.8%) and Hull (12.5%).
Sample sizes were too small for reliable estimates for local authorities in Scotland and Wales.
During the period October 2020 to February 2021, of those who said their wellbeing had been affected in the last seven days by the pandemic, 38.6% (around 10.5 million people) said it was because they were lonely, the ONS said.
Young people and single people were found to have been most affected by this seven-day measure, or “lockdown loneliness”.
Of those who said their wellbeing had been affected by the pandemic, the odds of someone aged 16 to 24 reporting feeling lonely in the last seven days were around four times greater than someone aged 75 or over, the ONS found.
Unemployment was “one of the most important factors” identified by the ONS in their analysis.
Local authority areas with a higher unemployment rate had higher proportions of residents who said they were often or always lonely, while in areas where residents earn more on average per week, loneliness rates tended to be lower.
By contrast, areas with strong local businesses and adult education tended to have lower rates of loneliness, with local authorities in London particularly benefiting in this way.
Places which tend to have lower crime rates showed lower levels of “lockdown loneliness” in the five months since October 2020.
This was true in countryside areas which tended to see lower levels of loneliness than higher crime urban areas, the ONS added.