New Zealand should prioritise loneliness in social policy as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, recommends a new report. WSP and The Helen Clark Foundation have released the first report of their partnership, Alone Together, a ground-breaking look at the impact of loneliness on the people and communities of Aotearoa.
“Studies have found that loneliness and a shorter life expectancy are linked together,” says report author Holly Walker.
“Early indications are that the Covid-19 outbreak has exacerbated loneliness, not only during the enforced isolation but also as we transition out with different ways of relating to each other.
“And sadly, those who were already more likely to feel profoundly lonely are now being worst affected: people with low incomes, the unemployed, Māori, young people, and single parents.”
Alone Together has 12 recommendations to address this, spread across six policy planks.
The first policy plank aims to make sure people have enough money - through an effective guaranteed minimum income and more help for people to retrain and regain employment.
“Given the mass loss of both income and employment caused by Covid-19, ensuring people have a stable, sufficient income and employment opportunities will be critical to buffer against the effects of not only economic recession, but also high levels of loneliness, isolation, and psychological distress,” it says.
“It will be necessary for the government to continue to stabilise people’s incomes for some time.”
The other five policy planks are: closing the digital divide, helping communities do their magic, creating friendly streets and neighbourhoods, prioritising those already lonely, and investing in frontline mental health services.
The Foundation’s patron, The Right Honourable Helen Clark, says the Alone Together report looks at the impact the COVID-19 lockdown had on an already worrying social trend, and offers suggestions for how government and communities can address this.
“Loneliness and the negative impacts of social isolation have a huge impact on society and, while they can affect anyone, it is often the most vulnerable or marginalised that are impacted the most. Having tackled a global pandemic as a united country, we have a unique opportunity to address this issue on a number of fronts to rebuild a better and stronger Aotearoa.”
David Kidd, WSP New Zealand Director of Client Experience and Strategic Advisory, says the built environment plays a significant role in reducing social isolation and loneliness – but achieving positive outcomes requires a new mindset.
“For the curators of the built environment – the planners, engineers and designers – it’s a paradigm shift away from designing communities based on creating iconic landmark buildings and the needs of private motor vehicles. We must now consciously prioritise social wellbeing outcomes. Designing our neighbourhoods to promote safe social interactions creates more connected, safer and resilient communities reducing the societal costs of loneliness.”
The Helen Clark Foundation is an independent public policy think tank based in
Auckland, New Zealand. Building on the lifetime of public service by our patron Helen
Clark, we aim to contribute to policy debates on how to achieve a more inclusive,
sustainable, and peaceful society. We are non-partisan. More information can be found