Independent inquiry needed to investigate ramifications of loneliness: SA-BEST

24 September 2023

The impacts of loneliness on South Australians need to be thoroughly investigated by an independent inquiry, SA-BEST believes. 

SA-BEST MLC and Social Inclusion spokesperson, Connie Bonaros, has launched a bid for the State Government to establish the inquiry and for the appointment of a Minister for Loneliness. 

Her proposal has received the support of two of South Australia’s most respected and largest non-for-profit charity organisations – Uniting Communities and AnglicareSA - which between them support more than 130,000 each year. 

“Loneliness doesn’t discriminate – it can impact any one of us at any point of our lives,” Connie said. 

‘Contrary to common believe, it doesn’t just effect the elderly, the disabled, the introverted, those who are grieving or are in poor health,” she said. 

“The social, physical, emotional and economic imposts of loneliness have never been independently investigated in South Australia. 

“If we are genuinely serious about reducing those impacts for future generations, an independent inquiry is a must. 

“South Australia also has a unique opportunity to lead the nation in this critical space by appointing a Minister for Loneliness, like the UK and Japanese governments have done recently.” 

Statistics indicate one in three Australians report feeling lonely, and one in six experience severe loneliness. 

Further, loneliness is described as “a chronic state” for up to 30 per cent of the general population. 

Connie pointed to a growing body of research - including Australia's first State of the Nation Report - Social Connection in Australia 2023 and the Australian Loneliness Report - which highlight loneliness is not only a very common experience but also an important predictor of both individual and public health, with broader economic and social impacts. 

The UK has estimated loneliness costs its health and justice systems over $32 billion. 

Connie is hopeful a Motion she has introduced to State Parliament will be supported by all sides of politics and lead to the establishment of the inquiry. Her Motion: 

  • Recognises loneliness is an important predictor of individual and population health.
  • Notes lack of social connection is:

(a) as dangerous as smoking up to 15 cigarettes or drinking six alcoholic drinks a day;

(b) increases the risk of heart disease by 29 per cent;

(c) increases the risk of stroke by 32 per cent; 

(d) increases the risk for anxiety and depression; and

(e) increases the risk of older adults developing dementia by 50 per cent;

  • Recognises the link between loneliness and population health outcomes in terms of suicide. rates, disease management, public health costs, absenteeism and economic prosperity.
  • Acknowledges loneliness is an urgent public health issue requiring immediate and adequate attention.
  • Notes the United Kingdom appointed a dedicated Minister for Loneliness in 2018 followed by Japan in 2020.
  • Calls on the South Australian government to establish an inquiry to consider, report and make recommendations on:

(a) the prevalence and causes of loneliness within the South Australian community;

(b) the effectiveness of current programs to improve social connection;

(c) opportunities for increased investment in local community groups which bring people together;

(d) opportunities for the funding of new programs and initiatives to address loneliness;

(e) the development of a loneliness strategy to advance social connection, and;

(f) the creation of a ministerial portfolio for loneliness or the specific inclusion of loneliness under the ministerial portfolio for health and wellbeing or another existing portfolio. 

“It’s time we as a community took the ramifications of loneliness seriously – not just on the individual inflicted by it, but also the social and economic impacts on the entire community,” Connie said. 

“Loneliness is a more disturbing predictor of premature death than physical inactivity, obesity, drinking or smoking,” she said. 

“It significantly increases the risk of heart disease by 29 per cent, stroke by 32 per cent, dementia by 50 per cent, depression and anxiety, and suicide and self-harm. 

“Diabetes, infectious diseases, cognitive function, depression, anxiety—all things that contribute to our health crisis in such a big way—all feature in loneliness statistics. 

“Although research confirms a high percentage of people believe loneliness is a serious issue, broader community understanding, awareness and concerted action to address loneliness remains low. 

“Sadly, loneliness is still surrounded by a lot of misconception, misperception, stigma and discrimination such that it is often hidden and under-reported. 

“SA-BEST believes the independent inquiry we are calling for – to consider, report and make recommendations to address the often unrecognised negative impacts loneliness has on our community - will go a long way to confronting all these issues and elevating the awareness of loneliness in our community. 

“Similarly, the appointment of a Minister for Loneliness – which can be added as a portfolio to a current Minister, will play a significant role in tackling the scourge of loneliness.” 

Uniting Communities Chief Executive, Simon Schrapel AM, said: "We know many South Australians are experiencing loneliness. A recent Uniting Communities report tell us that 59 per cent of South Australians describe feeling lonely often or at times. 

“While loneliness doesn’t discriminate, it is our young South Australians aged 18 to 24 who are reporting higher rates of loneliness,” he said. 

“We have a long way to go to reduce the stigma of loneliness. Many people are reluctant to admit they are lonely. This inquiry would be a great step towards raising awareness of this issue. 

“Research tells us loneliness can have significant effects on our overall health and wellbeing, often likened to the same effects of obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

“We believe this inquiry would be an important opportunity to have a community conversation about loneliness and highlight effective policy interventions to reduce the issue. 

“Loneliness is a significant issue across our community and it’s long past time that we take steps to address it." 

AnglicareSA Executive General Manager, Community Services, Nancy Penna, said: “AnglicareSA has first-hand experience with the impact that loneliness and a lack of social inclusion has on a person’s health and well-being. 

“We recognise the importance of investing in programs to address social connectedness across our communities,” she said.  

“AnglicareSA currently delivers the Community Connections Program, funded through the Department of Human Services, and is seeing positive outcomes for community members through opportunities to connect and over the past 12 months over 100 people have benefited from this.”

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