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Rise in single people and private renters’ increasing social fragmentation

The authors of the University Of Manchester study say it has profound implications for mental health provisions

A new study says social fragmentation is increasing in the UK – and cites the rises in single people and private renters as two of the primary causes.

Social fragmentation, the absence of connections between individuals and society, was defined by the team behind the University of Manchester study as the numbers of private renters, single people, migrants and one person households in a community.

The authors of the study, published in BMJ Open, say it has profound implications on mental health provision in England.

The group used data from the last two censuses and found an increase from 2001 to 2011, particularly in the north of England. The research found that in that period there was a 7.5 per cent increase in single people and a 90 per cent increase in privately rented households.

London, Yorkshire and Humber and the South Central had the largest increases in private renting. Similarly, the North East, West Midlands and West Midlands had the largest increases in single people. London, however, had the highest levels on both factors.

The increase in the numbers of young professionals, students and divorces over the period are likely to have contributed to the rising numbers of single people

Health economist and PHD student Christos Grigoroglou says the increases in private renting are likely to be a result of poor availability of social housing, unaffordable housing for ‘generation rent’, increasingly common short-term employment and rising student numbers.

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And the increase in the numbers of young professionals, students and divorces over the period are likely to have contributed to the rising numbers of single people.

He said: “Private renting and single people have been long recognised as having an impact on social fragmentation – especially in mental health.

“Single people are also known to suffer from worse mental health outcomes. This study shows how these factors have become more prominent in recent years, impacting significantly on levels of social fragmentation.”

Data scientist Professor Evan Kontopantelis added: “Higher levels of social fragmentation have long been linked with suicide, self-harm, mental disorders, and psychiatric health service use.

“Therefore, understanding social fragmentation can be a powerful aid to the organisation of healthcare services, by identifying areas that need to be targeted from social and healthcare interventions.

“Of particular interest is mental health and interventions to improve it, since social fragmentation appears to be a salient risk factor for poor mental health.”

The study found that urban areas are more socially divided than the countryside – areas in Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds had the highest levels of social fragmentation in the country in 2011, while London had the most neighbourhoods ranking high in social fragmentation.

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