One in four adults have not been hugged for more than a year, according to research that suggests people are less likely to build new relationships than they were during the first coronavirus lockdown.
A third (32%) of adults feel there are fewer opportunities to make new connections now than there were when the nation first locked down, the think tank Demos found.
Its polling of 1,000 UK adults in May found that 23% said they believed there are currently more opportunities, as society opens up from Covid-19 restrictions.
It warns there is a “huge risk” that the community spirit prompted by the crisis, which saw volunteers, friends and family provide food and support to vulnerable members, will be lost.
The cross-party think tank found that almost two thirds (64%) of respondents said they have not made a new friend for six months, and 44% have not done so in more than a year.
More than a third (37%) reported that they have not been hugged for at least half a year, while 25% said they have not shared a hug for a year or more.
And 13% said they have not been asked how their day was, or talked to their neighbours, in the past six months or more.
The research, sponsored by Capita, found that the majority of British people want to get to know the people who provide local services (71%) and the community members who use them (64%).
Its report, The Social State, is calling for public services to be delivered in a way that makes it easier for people to form new relationships.
This would enable citizens to prevent problems and manage them more successfully, with less reliance on the state, it believes.
Polly Mackenzie, chief executive at Demos and author of The Social State, said the pandemic showed that strong community ties are “vital to our resilience and strength as a society”.
She said: “Our new research out today worryingly shows that these gains we’ve made in community relationships earlier in the pandemic are in danger of being lost.
“If we’re to build back stronger from the pandemic, we need to reimagine our public services for the 21st century as a way of strengthening our communities, relationships and social capital.”
Andy Start, executive officer at Capita Government Services, said: “The report’s findings demonstrate the UK public’s appetite to shift to a relational model for service delivery.
“This would enable service providers and users to form strong relationships with one another and build trust, in turn helping combat social isolation and build stronger communities.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “We are acutely aware that for many people the issue of loneliness will not simply just go away as restrictions begin to ease and tackling loneliness remains a priority for this Government.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have invested over £34 million in charities specifically focused on reducing loneliness.
“We have also recently launched the second round of the £4 million Local Connections Fund in partnership with the National Lottery Community Fund, helping to support people to make meaningful and lasting connections in their communities.”