How we communicate

Page last updated: 2019 - due to be refreshed in 2021.

1 Five key points       

  1. The Better Broadband 4 Suffolk (BB4S) programme receives public funding to make fibre broadband available in areas that are not expected to be covered by commercial upgrades. In January 2019, 93% of Suffolk premises had access to fibre broadband coverage. (3.1 Access to broadband
     
  2. BB4S has a contract in place for Openreach to extend fibre broadband coverage to 98% of all Suffolk premises by 2020. (3.1 Access to broadband)
     
  3. In Suffolk, 9 in 10 adults had used the internet within the previous 3 months in 2018, compared to 8 in 10 in 2012. (3.2 Internet use)
     
  4. Nationally, 4 in 5 adults used mobile phones or smartphones to access the internet in 2018. (3.2 Internet use)
     
  5. It is estimated that nearly 130,000 Suffolk residents sometimes, often or always feel lonely. Both prevalence and absolute numbers are highest among residents aged under 35. (3.4 Loneliness)

2 Why is communication important in Suffolk? 

Communication can take many forms, such as face to face, over the phone, by letter or social media. Effective communication enables individuals to build interpersonal relationships and develop a rapport with one another. While sharing information is important in helping communities and organisations to work effectively together, it is the interpersonal element that helps to build cohesive communities and teams.

2.1 Online communication

The ways that people communicate have changed dramatically in the last 25 years. Since launching in 1994, the World Wide Web has transformed the way that people communicate, first through email and then through social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. In 2018, nearly nine in ten UK adults were online, and this was almost universal among those under 55. Smartphones are now more popular than a computer for going online and an increasing number of people use smartphones to keep in touch with work and clients. Twenty years ago, being without the internet may have been thought of as an inconvenience. Among the modern workforce, it could now be considered a threat to livelihood for people whose careers are closely linked to internet activity.[1]

The impact of online communication and social media on health and wellbeing are the subject of debate, with research being split between the benefits and drawbacks. Among younger people, possible benefits include perceived social support, increased social capital and increased opportunity for self-disclosure. Conversely, the harmful effects include increased exposure to unsuitable content, social isolation, depression and cyber-bullying. The impact on self-esteem is complex – whereas some benefits may increase self-esteem, the drawbacks may have the opposite effect. The ability to communicate with people via social media platforms may actually make people feel more socially isolated. One study reported that among young people, the most regular users of social media were more likely to experience higher levels of perceived social isolation.[2] A meta-analysis of studies reported either mixed or no effect(s) of online social technologies on adolescent wellbeing.[3]

2.2 Loneliness and isolation

There is a distinction between loneliness and isolation. Age UK defines ‘isolation’ as separation from social or familial contact, community involvement, or access to services, while ‘loneliness’ can be understood as an individual’s personal, subjective sense of lacking these things.[4] It is therefore possible to be isolated without being lonely, and to be lonely without being isolated. There are many contributing factors to social isolation. Many things can prevent people from leaving the house and having contact with other members of society, such as long-term illness, disabilities, transport issues, unemployment and economic struggles, or domestic violence.[5]

Loneliness and social isolation are harmful to health, with research showing that lacking social connections may be as damaging to health as some well-established unhealthy behaviours.[6] Social networks and friendships not only have an impact on reducing the risk of mortality or developing certain diseases, but they also help individuals to recover when they do fall ill.[7] Loneliness can be felt by people of all ages but as people get older, the risk factors that might lead to loneliness begin to increase. These may include poor health, loss of senses and mobility, retirement and bereavement.[8] Although technological changes can enable people to communicate with a wide range of people, the pace of technological change may be too fast for some older people.

3 What is the local picture?       

3.1 Access to broadband

The Better Broadband for Suffolk (BB4S) programme started in 2010.[9] At that time, services were generally constrained to Suffolk’s urban areas and there wasn’t a commercial business case for upgrades for around a half of Suffolk. The BB4S programme receives public funding to make fibre broadband available in areas that are not expected to be covered by commercial upgrades. In January 2019, 93% of Suffolk premises had access to fibre broadband coverage. Under the Government’s "Superfast Extension Programme", BB4S has a contract in place for Openreach to extend fibre broadband coverage to 98% of all Suffolk premises by 2020.[10]

3.2 Internet use

In Suffolk, 9 in 10 adults had used the internet within the previous 3 months in 2018, compared to 8 in 10 in 2012. More detailed figures about internet usage are available from national level surveys; although not specific to Suffolk, these can be used as an indication of the Suffolk picture.

In 2018, among all adults, 4 in 5 (78%) used mobile phones or smartphones to access the internet.[11] These were the most popular devices across most age groups, apart from those aged 65 years and over, who reported a tablet computer as the most popular device used to access the internet (42%). The most popular internet activities in 2018 were sending or receiving emails (84% of adults carrying out this activity), finding information about goods or services (77%) and internet banking (69%).

The Taking Part survey reported that, in 2014/15, 7 in 10 (70.4%) adults had used social media in the past year.[12] The most commonly used social media platforms were the social networking platform Facebook (used by 57.5% of adults), followed by YouTube (50.6%) and Twitter (21.5%). Among adults who use social media, more than 2 in 3 (68.8%) do so at least once a day, with over half of those accessing social media several times a day. Across all social media platforms, younger people were overrepresented among users and older people were underrepresented.

3.3 Social isolation

Analysis has been undertaken to better understand which areas in Suffolk are prone to social isolation.[13] The analysis considered a range of factors that could influence the likelihood of becoming socially isolated. The most highly weighted factors in the analysis included being:

  • aged 65 and over
  • widowed
  • single
  • depressed
  • on a low income

The results of the analysis indicate that areas with a higher social isolation score tend to be along the East coast and on the outskirts of towns such as Lowestoft, Woodbridge, Stowmarket, Felixstowe, Sudbury and Leiston (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Social isolation risk scores by Lower Super Output Areas, Suffolk, 2016 [13]

Figure 1: Social isolation risk scores by Lower Super Output Areas, Suffolk, 2016

Note: isolation risk scores are relative to the area with the highest score in Suffolk; they cannot be used to compare risk against the rest of the country or national averages. Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs) are geographical groupings of postcode areas containing an average of 1,500 people.

Source: Suffolk County Council. Analysis of social isolation risk scores in Suffolk. (2016).

3.4 Loneliness

Traditionally, research about loneliness has tended to focus on older people. However, more recent studies have concluded that people aged below 65 are more likely to report feeling lonely. Analysis of characteristics and circumstances associated with loneliness in England using the Community Life Survey suggest that younger adults aged 16-24 years reported feeling lonely more often than those in older age groups.[14] Applying these national prevalence estimates to population estimates for Suffolk would indicate that there are nearly 130,000 Suffolk residents who sometimes, often or always feel lonely.[14], [15] Both prevalence and absolute numbers are highest among residents aged under 35 (Table 1). Feelings of loneliness are higher amongst females than males, regardless of age. Loneliness mapping of people aged 65 and over in Suffolk showed there is a higher risk of loneliness in more urban areas.[16]

Table 1: Reported prevalence and number of people who sometimes, often or always feel lonely by age group, Suffolk, 2016/17[14], [15]

  Age group     Estimated population in Suffolk     Prevalence of People who sometimes, often or always feel lonely     Estimated number of People who sometimes, often or always feel lonely  
16-24   70,183     32.7%     22,978  
25-34   88,671     24.3%     21,520  
35-44   85,621     17.4%     14,889  
45-54   106,723     19.5%     20,822  
55-64   96,186     21.5%     20,709  
65-74   94,280     14.3%     13,454  
75+   78,886     20.0%     15,769  
Total   620,550     -     130,141  

 

Age group  Estimated population in Suffolk   Prevalence of People who sometimes, often or always feel lonely    Estimated number of People who sometimes, often or always feel lonely 
16-24 70,183 32.7% 22,978
25-34 88,671 24.3% 21,520
35-44 85,621 17.4% 14,889
45-54 106,723 19.5% 20,822
55-64 96,186 21.5% 20,709
65-74 94,280 14.3% 13,454
75 & over 78,886 20.0% 15,769
Total 620,550 - 130,141

 

Sources: Office for National Statistics. Loneliness - What characteristics and circumstances are associated with feeling lonely? (2018). Office for National Statistics. Population estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland: mid-2017. (2018)

Note: potential responses to the question “How often do you feel lonely?” were: “often/always”, “sometimes”, “occasionally”, “hardly ever” and “never”. Prevalence is the sum of those who responded “often/always” or “sometimes”.

Age UK has published heat maps of loneliness for all local authorities in England: www.ageuk.org.uk/our-impact/policy-research/loneliness-research-and-resources/loneliness-maps/

4 What policies affect communication?  

The Better Broadband for Suffolk Programme aims to provide superfast fibre broadband coverage across the County. The Better Broadband for Suffolk Programme continues to work with the Government to develop a policy which completes the rollout to these ‘hardest to reach’ communities, which are predominately in rural areas.

Loneliness was highlighted by the Prime Minister in January 2018, who announced that a national strategy to help tackle loneliness would be developed, and which was published in October 2018.[17] Alongside this, measures of loneliness would be developed, and data collected and published to help inform and focus future work on loneliness, both at a local level and nationally, and providing a focus to support strategic leadership, policy decisions and service planning: www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-connected-society-a-strategy-for-tackling-loneliness

5 Further information

 6 References

[1]         Ofcom, “Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report,” 2018. Available at: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/113222/Adults-Media-Use-and-Attitudes-Report-2018.pdf

[2]         B. A. Primack et al., “Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S.,” Am. J. Prev. Med., vol. 53, no. 1, pp. 1–8, Jul. 2017.

[3]         P. Best, R. Manktelow, and B. Taylor, “Online communication, social media and adolescent wellbeing: A systematic narrative review,” Child. Youth Serv. Rev., vol. 41, pp. 27–36, Jun. 2014.

[4]         Public Health England, “Loneliness and isolation: Social relationships are key to good health,” 2015. [Online]. Available: https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2015/12/08/loneliness-and-isolation-social-relationships-are-key-to-good-health/

[5]         No Isolation, “What is social isolation?,” 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.noisolation.com/global/research/what-is-social-isolation/

[6]         J. Holt-Lunstad, T. B. Smith, M. Baker, T. Harris, and D. Stephenson, “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review,” Perspect. Psychol. Sci., vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 227–237, 2015.

[7]         M. Marmot, “Fair Society, Healthy Lives: Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England post-2010,” 2010. Available at: www.instituteofhealthequity.org/resources-reports/fair-society-healthy-lives-the-marmot-review/fair-society-healthy-lives-full-report-pdf.pdf

[8]         Campaign to End Loneliness, “About loneliness.” [Online]. Available: https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/about-loneliness/

[9]         Better Broadband for Suffolk, “Our journey.” Available: https://betterbroadbandsuffolk.com/

[10]       Department for Digital Culture Media & Sport, “Broadband Delivery UK,” 2019. /available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/broadband-delivery-uk

[11]       Office for National Statistics, “Internet access – households and individuals, Great Britain,” 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/householdcharacteristics/homeinternetandsocialmediausage/bulletins/internetaccesshouseholdsandindividuals/2018

[12]       Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport, “Taking Part focus on: social media,” 2016.Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/519678/Social_media_-_FINAL.pdf

[13]       Suffolk County Council, “Analysis of social isolation risk scores in Suffolk,” 2016. 

[14]       ONS, “Loneliness - What characteristics and circumstances are associated with feeling lonely?,” Apr. 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/lonelinesswhatcharacteristicsandcircumstancesareassociatedwithfeelinglonely/2018-04-10

[15]       Office for National Statistics, “Population estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland: mid-2017 - Office for National Statistics,” 2018. Available: https://www.ons.gov.uk/releases/populationestimatesforukenglandandwalesscotlandandnorthernirelandmid2017

[16]       Age UK, “Age UK loneliness heat map,” 2018. [Online]. Available: www.ageuk.org.uk/our-impact/policy-research/loneliness-research-and-resources/loneliness-maps/#

[17]       HM Government, “A connected society: A strategy for tackling loneliness – laying the foundations for change,” 2018.Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-connected-society-a-strategy-for-tackling-loneliness