Creating a Society of Readers

A new report produced by think tank Demos in partnership with the Reading Agency highlights societal benefits of reading.

The report focuses on ways in which reading can mitigate the impact of a range of societal challenges, including mental health problems, loneliness, dementia and social immobility.

Reading vs loneliness

This new report shares evidence from a number of sources about the positive impact reading can have on those who consider themselves socially isolated or lonely. Examples include:

  • A Dutch study showed reading books significantly reduces feelings of loneliness. This study showed that people who read have “more close contacts they can talk to about important matters”.
  • Studies aimed at different population groups (young mothers, older citizens in care homes), encouraged participants to read more. All of these reading programmes showed that reading can help generate a sense of purpose, foster social connections and alleviate loneliness.

Reading to promote health and emotional wellbeing

Reading for pleasure, empowerment or information can boost literacy. This in turn has important health benefits. The research literature shows just how beneficial reading can be for people with mental health issues and dementia.  

  • The UK’s Reading Well/Books on Prescription programme encourages people to read about their conditions. 68% of participants felt that their symptoms improved after they learnt more about their condition via 'prescribed' books

What next

In October 2018, the UK government launched its first ever loneliness strategy. In its recommendations, this report highlights ways it believes the UK government can draw on the proven links between reading, literacy and mental wellbeing.  

Recommendations include

  • The Government should build on the success of programmes such as Reading Friends and fund a £200m national loneliness intervention that uses reading to tackle loneliness for all ages
  • The Government should provide both investment and practical guidance to encourage greater co-location of children’s centres and libraries.
  • The NHS should encourage Clinical Commissioning Groups to invest more in book-based interventions as part of its social prescribing strategy for mental health and dementia making funds necessary as required.
  • The Government should put a requirement on all schools and colleges to provide access to a dedicated mental health section in a library.
  • The Government should launch a consultation with post-16 training providers about redesigning qualification standards so that every qualification contains a reading component.
  • The BBC should work with relevant organisations and seek to create a “Book Relief” equivalent to [charitable organisations] “Sports Relief” and “Comic Relief”. Fundraising activities should be loosely themed around reading and education and invest in reading and education causes both domestically and around the world.

You can read the full report here

Meawhile, researchers at the Australian National University used data from 160,000 adults from 31 countries.  The survey asked people aged 25-65 to think about how many books they had at home when they were 16 years old. The average number of books at home was 115. In Norway the average number was 212 books; in Turkey it was 27. The researchers found that the literacy rates climbed as the number of books at home climbed.  This research article is available here