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Using predictive analytics in the fight against social isolation

Reducing social isolation is a priority for social care and public health. The quality and quantity of social relationships are known to affect physical and mental health and even risk of mortality.

Social isolation refers to a lack of contact with family or friends, community involvement, or access to services. And, while loneliness and social isolation often go hand in hand, they can have different causes and may require different solutions. Loneliness is a subjective concept – as the saying goes, you can feel lonely in a crowded room. Social isolation is objective, and can be measured by the actual number of social interactions a person has.

People can be socially isolated at any stage of life, but the experience is most severe among older people. And research shows that a lack of social relationships is as bad for a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2010). But finding and supporting socially isolated people is inherently difficult.

Capita's social isolation index

The insight and analytics team within Capita Transformation has created a social isolation index. The index is calculated by combining individual and household level statistics including age, gender, household composition and household income with weightings derived from national research to create an index. People with a higher rating on the index are more likely to be socially isolated.

People that score highly on the index are mapped at small area geographies to identify areas with higher densities of older adults that are more likely to be socially isolated. Where social isolation ‘hotspots’ are identified, details of existing services, local community assets and third sector organisations are overlaid. Available services can then be identified to help address the isolation issue or show gaps in provision. 

By pinpointing such small areas, local solutions implemented by local organisations can address local challenges. For example: in areas with an abundance of parks and gardens, walking or gardening groups could be encouraged; at Capita we’ve used the social isolation tool to show where, for example, the Casserole Club community programme could be effective; or, as the index also identifies individuals at greater risk of becoming socially isolated, it could be used to flag up if any new or current social care customers are at high risk. Additional support can then be provided to ensure the wellbeing of people at risk.

The social isolation index provides health or social care practitioners with an evidence base to help them provide support for people that are typically difficult to identify, at high risk of spiralling into poor health, or that require intensive intervention from health services. By identifying people at greatest risk, local authorities can intervene early and manage down demand for more costly services.

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