Age UK did not say that elderly suicides rose during lockdown

25 October 2023
What was claimed

Age UK said that lockdown caused a rise in suicides among elderly people.

Our verdict

Age UK did not say this. A counsel to the Covid Inquiry inaccurately described the charity’s evidence on this point. We can find no evidence of a rise in elderly suicides during the pandemic.

Lockdown caused depression and suicides in the elderly, says Age UK

According to an article in the Telegraph in early October, the charity Age UK said that lockdowns caused suicides in elderly people.

But this is not what Age UK said. In fact this appears to be based on an incorrect description of Age UK’s comments by one of the counsels to the Covid-19 inquiry—to which Age UK gave evidence.

Age UK has told Full Fact that it has “no evidence of there being an increase in actual suicide among older people during the pandemic”.

Public bodies and the media should take care to describe evidence correctly, especially when it might mislead people on the effects of public health measures during the pandemic.

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What Age UK actually said

The Telegraph article says: “In a witness statement provided to the public inquiry… Age UK said lockdown had caused ‘much higher rates of depression and self-harming and suicide’ amongst elderly people.”

This is not correct, because that quote appears to come from comments made by Andrew O’Connor KC, Counsel to the inquiry, not from Age UK’s witness statement.

That statement mentions suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts rather than completed suicide) just once, when it says on page nine: “We have also heard extensive testimony from older people experiencing neglect, self-harm, suicidal ideation, malnutrition and substance misuse at home.”

In other words, it doesn’t say that the charity knows of any specific examples of suicides caused by lockdown, or that it thinks suicide rates among the elderly rose at the time.

What was said at the inquiry

However, when discussing Age UK’s evidence during the inquiry, Mr O’Connor said: “Some of the concepts you describe in your statement are physical and mental deconditioning ... as a result of lockdown … And also an effect on mental health and much higher rates of depression and self-harming and suicide amongst older people.”

This appears to be what the Telegraph has quoted. And Age UK’s director Caroline Abrahams appeared to agree with these comments by saying “Yes” or “Yeah” at several points during the transcript.

However, as we’ve seen, this isn’t in fact what Age UK’s statement said, and the charity has since clarified Ms Abrahams’ views with Full Fact.

In a new statement, she told us: “Through our research and contact with older people there were a worrying number who described feelings and behaviours we recognised as common signs and expressions of self harm and suicide ideation.

“It is also the case that compared to pre-pandemic times, the Age UK advice line has taken an increased number of calls from older people who are acutely distressed, including some who express suicidal ideation. As a result, we have had to provide additional training to our advice line call handlers, as I explained during the course of giving oral evidence to the pandemic inquiry.

“However, we have no evidence of there being an increase in actual suicide among older people during the pandemic. Nor, during the pandemic or since, have we criticised government decisions to lockdown at times, as a mechanism for controlling the spread of COVID-19.”

Did elderly suicides rise during the pandemic?

In an analysis of the available data on all ages from England and Wales published in April 2023, the ONS said: “There is no evidence that the number of suicides has increased since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.”

Nor can we find any evidence of a rise in the number of elderly suicides specifically, when looking at mortality data by year of registration for people aged 65 or older—although deaths by suicide may often be registered after a long delay.

In England and Wales, all deaths by suicide are certified by a coroner and cannot be registered until an inquest is completed, a process which during the pandemic often took around six months.

This data does not tell us whether suicide rates among elderly people rose during the lockdown periods specifically.

A supposed rise in the suicide rate during the pandemic has been a common subject of misinformation, which we have written about many times before.

Contacting Samaritans

The Samaritans’ helpline is available at all hours and can be contacted free on 116 123, or you can email

Image courtesy of Danie Franco

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted The Telegraph and the Covid-19 inquiry to request corrections. 

The Covid-19 inquiry told us it wasn't possible to correct the transcript because it is an accurate reflection of what was said. We have responded and suggested adding a correction note to the transcript, rather than changing what was said, but we have been told this isn't possible. 

The Telegraph did not respond.

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