Almost seven million people in the UK do not have anyone they would call a close friend, a survey has discovered.
The survey, by charities Relate and Relationships Scotland, found that loneliness is on the rise with more than one in eight adults saying they do not have a close friend.
That was an increase on previous years, according to research.
When the same question was asked in 2014 and 2015, the figure stood at around one in ten people.
The charities’ report, “You’re Not Alone – The Quality of the UK’s Social Relationships”, also found that almost half (45%) of UK adults felt lonely at least some of the time and almost a fifth (18%) felt lonely often or all of the time.
Based on a survey of more than 5,000 people, the report found that almost one in six (17%) said they never (5%) or rarely (12%) felt loved.
On a positive note, the research found that 83% of people in the UK enjoyed good relationships with their friends.
The most commonly reported number of close friends is two or three, with 18% of people selecting each, while 6% of people feel they have more than 10 close friends.
People from the East Midlands were the most likely to report having no close friends – 17% or one in six, whereas people living in the South West were the least likely say this – 10% or one in 10.
Younger people were more likely to report feeling lonely than older people, with almost two-thirds (65%) of 16- to 24-year-olds saying they felt lonely at least some of the time, while almost a third (32%) felt lonely often or all the time.
Among people aged 65 or over, 32% said they felt lonely at least sometimes and 11% felt lonely often or all the time.
Relate said it was concerned that increased dependence on social media, lack of work/life balance and the pressures of bringing up children could be affecting people’s friendships.
Chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “Making friends and keeping them isn’t always easy: it can take time and effort that we don’t always have to spare.
“Life can take over as we juggle careers with family life and it might seem as if our social media friend count is high but what is the quality of those friendships really like?
“Social relationships are essential to our health and well-being. We mustn’t take them for granted.”