In 2018 after government recommendations, the ONS undertook a process of scoping and consultation on loneliness measures of which the Campaign to End Loneliness was a participant. As a result, they have recommended the “gold standard” in measuring loneliness is to use both direct and indirect measures of loneliness where possible.

Measuring loneliness as standard at a local level is vital to improving the UK’s service provision, to understanding loneliness, and to reaching the most isolated lonely people. Starting to measure your impact on loneliness might seem a small change in policy, but will lead to improvements in evaluations and practical, every-day attempts to reduce loneliness. Measuring loneliness will also increase your service’s ability to secure funding for its work, as funders rely heavily on evidence-based approaches, while enabling local authority commissioners to establish what is changing loneliness for people in their communities.

National indicator of loneliness

They recommend four questions to capture different aspects of loneliness. The first three questions are from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) three-item loneliness scale. The last is a direct question about how often the respondent feels lonely, currently used on the Community Life Survey. Using the UCLA scale ensures that loneliness is being measured using a scale that has been assessed as valid and reliable and the single item allows the respondent to say for themselves whether they feel lonely which provides insight into the subjective feeling of loneliness.


Recommended measures of loneliness for adults
Measures Items Response categories
The three-item UCLA
Loneliness scale
1.     How often do you feel that
you lack companionship?
Hardly ever or never, Some of the
time, Often
2.     How often do you feel left
Hardly ever or never, Some of the
time, Often
3.     How often do you feel
isolated from others?
Hardly ever or never, Some of the
time, Often
The direct measure of
How often do you feel lonely? Often/always, Some of the time,
Occasionally, Hardly ever, Never

Source: Office for National Statistics

The reason for asking the four questions together is that the stigma of loneliness may mean that people underreport their feelings if asked directly and the other questions help us understand other aspects that contribute to a person’s feelings of loneliness. To get the best understanding of whether someone is feeling lonely it is recommended you ask all four questions, however if you only have space for one question you should use the fourth question, ‘How often do you feel lonely?’

Other loneliness measures

In 2015 The Campaign to End Loneliness published its guidance on measuring loneliness, and measuring your service’s impact on service-users’ levels of loneliness. This guidance introduces three scales and the ways in which you can use them. These scales have been tried and tested in academic studies. In addition to the UCLA scale and one item scale used in the national indicator the Campaign’s guidance also features two other scales: The Campaign to End Loneliness Measurement tool and The De-Jong Giervald 6-Item Loneliness Scale.

Campaign to End Loneliness tool

Through extensive research and consultation, we developed our own scale, The Campaign to End Loneliness Measurement tool, which you can read about in our measurement guidance. We have kept the questions of the scale positively worded and they do not make explicit mention of loneliness, so as to be as inclusive and widely useful as possible. Our scale is based on the conceptualisation of loneliness as a subjective state, taking place when there is a mismatch between the social contact we have, and the social contact we want.

De-Jong Giervald

The De-Jong Giervald scale is sometimes preferred to the national indicator because it separates out different types of loneliness: social and emotional. In this 6-item scale, 3 statements are made about ‘emotional loneliness’ and 3 about ‘social loneliness’. (Social loneliness (SL) occurs when someone is missing a wider social network and emotional loneliness (EL) is caused when you miss an “intimate relationship”. The focus on both emotional and social loneliness produces results that can give insight into why someone might be experiencing loneliness. For example, are they lonely because they’d like larger social networks, or is it because of the loss of a key relationship?


All scales presented and explained in our guidance ask different questions,  but produce similarly accurate results. Each scale has its own scoring and interpretation system to use alongside the questions or statements for respondents. In our guidance, we clearly explain how to use each scale effectively.

For more information:

Measuring loneliness: guidance for use of the national indicators on surveys