ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Loneliness, Connectedness and Social Infrastructure

28 September 2018

Last week Relationships Australia released a groundbreaking longitudinal analysis of loneliness in Australia (pdf).

This report found: "deficits in experiences and feelings of belonging have been associated with a range of poor mental, physical and socio-economic outcomes for people, their families and communities.  In a recent meta-analytical review of literature, people who are socially isolated or lonely are at risk of premature mortality at rates comparable with other well-established risk factors, including lack of physical activity, obesity, substance abuse, poor mental health, injury and violence (Holt-Lunstad, 2015)."  

This Relationships Australia report also found that: 

  • significant life transitions and events disrupt social relationships;  
  • there are distinct groups more at risk of loneliness; and that 
  • involvement in work, caring, interest groups and access to meaningful relationships that offer advice and guidance are vital to reducing the risk of isolation and loneliness. 

This research affirms the focus ACTCOSS has had over the past 12 months on identifying and advocating for action to address gaps in municipal level social infrastructure which we defined as the social connections, and the organisations and services that build them in a community. 

We have recently provided input to the Chief Minister's office on these priorities for investment in social infrastructure:  

  • community support (including support tailored to groups that experience stigma, discrimination and marginalisation, and community facilities); 
  • arts, culture, sport and recreation (in terms of diversity inclusion, cost of access and opportunity to engage); 
  • community development (municipal level); and
  • public and community transport (in terms of alignment of planning/design, needs analysis). 

There are a number of current ACT Government reform agendas that should incorporate building stronger municipal level social infrastructure into their design, funding and evaluation: community and health service redesign, improving education equity, the restorative community agenda, justice reinvestment, city renewal and suburban development. 

ACTCOSS is also advocating for increased investment in and support for social infrastructure development by the Capital Health Network. This includes encouraging workforce and service development of social prescribing in the health sector, which can be described as: options that make available new life opportunities that can add meaning, form new relationships, or give the patient a chance to take responsibility or be creative.  

Usually these services need to be available locally and often within the voluntary, community, and social enterprise sector. Examples of these services include voluntary work agencies, further education, libraries, or book groups; social or lunch clubs; self-help groups; befriending organisations; hobby, horticulture or sports clubs; nature conservation groups, and art or dance classes.

If you would like to contribute to ACTCOSS advocacy on municipal level social infrastructure please get involved via the Community Development Peer Network and by contacting Craig Wallace and the policy team.