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National Travel Survey to ask if respondents suffer loneliness


Andrew Forster
15 February 2019
Some respondents were confused about why they were being asked questions about loneliness in a transport survey
Some respondents were confused about why they were being asked questions about loneliness in a transport survey


Participants in England’s National Travel Survey (NTS) are to be asked questions about whether they suffer from loneliness, despite a pilot survey finding some respondents were anxious about why the Government was asking such questions in a travel survey. 

NatCen Social Research, which is contracted by the Government to conduct the NTS in England, ran a pilot study asking people how often they felt they lacked companionship, how often they felt left out, how often they felt isolated from others, and how often they felt lonely. 

NatCen reports: “Generally, participants found the loneliness questions easy to understand and answer. However, difficulties were highlighted regarding whether the questions were appropriate for a travel survey due to their sensitive nature. 

“Participants [also] queried whether they should be thinking of how transport influenced their experiences of loneliness.

“One participant, who answered ‘some of the time’ for all four questions, said he felt sad after answering these questions. He questioned what the data will be used for. The interviewer ensured that he was feeling better before ending the interview.”

In one experiment the questions were introduced with a statement that read, ‘Evidence shows that good transport links are important to help people remain linked into their communities. To help us to understand this better, the following questions are asked on behalf of the Office for National Statistics.’

NatCen says some respondents given this explanation “were confused as to whether they should think about the link between loneliness and transport or if they should answer more generally about their experiences of loneliness”.

NatCen concludes: “We do recommend careful consideration of how to introduce these questions in the National Travel Survey. We recommend a clear introduction is included, to explain why the questions are being asked. This will have a beneficial impact on avoiding drop outs and non-response. The introduction should include details on the data being confidential and anonymous.” 

LTT asked the Office for National Statistics whether the questions would definitely be added to the NTS, why they were being added, and whether it was concerned about the findings of the pilot. 

A spokeswoman expressed surprise that NatCen’s report said the ONS had requested the questions. She said the questions had been proposed by the DfT. 

On putting the same questions to the DfT, a spokesman said: “Yes, loneliness will be included in the National Travel Survey. Regarding your other questions, feel free to come back with these and any other questions when the survey is published, but we won’t be commenting further on this for now.”

Other changes to the NTS include a new question about ebike ownership and a wider number of possible responses to  a question about how frequently people use different modes of transport. The new question will give options of ‘at least once a day’, ‘five or six times a week’, and ‘three or four times a week’. The maximum frequency allowed in the current survey is ‘three or more times a week’.   

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