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Incorporating loneliness and social connection into the Treasury Living Standards Framework

Loneliness NZ heart logo

Media release:  Today Loneliness NZ provided a contribution to the NZ Treasury Living Standards Framework.

By way of background, the Government budget 2019 will be different to all previous budgets.  In addition to considering financial benefit and costs (i.e. Financial Capital), the budget 2019 will be based more broadly around the Living Standards Framework, which takes account of four types of Capital: Physical and Financial Capital, Natural Capital, Human Capital and Social Capital. 

In February 2018, the Treasuring released four ‘discussion documents’ on the Living Standards Framework (see Further information below). Our response to these discussion papers focused on the Social Capital discussion paper, but also had implications for Human Capital and the Living Standards Framework in general. 

The discussion papers were quite technical in nature, with economics terminology.  To address the issues in the discussion papers, our contribution was equally technical. Our contribution needs to be read in conjunction with the Treasury discussion papers.

General feedback on the Living Standards Framework

The key points raised in our contribution of broader relevance to the Living Standards Framework and Human Capital are as follows:

  • There are four primary social indicators driving wellbeing. We highlight the work of Stats NZ that has shown there are four primary indicators driving wellbeing in New Zealand. We do not believe any of these indicators are currently proposed in the Living Standards Framework.
  • Social connection is important to public policy. We highlight twelve important public policy issues that are associated with social connection. As a consequence, we believe social connectedness indicators need to be in the Living Standards Framework.
  • Social health is a cause of physical and mental health. We provide extensive references on this causal relationship, which is relevant to the relationship between Human Capital and Social Capital.
Why is this contribution important?
The draft Living Standards Framework, which is a wellbeing framework, does not include any social connectedness indicators, and does not propose to monetise any Social Capital indicators. The result of this draft is that Government policy will be unable to capture the benefits of social connectedness and costs of social disconnectedness (e.g. social isolation of the elderly). Further, the draft Living Standards Framework – if left unchanged – would imply that the Government has little interest in individual social wellbeing.

Feedback on the Social Capital discussion paper

An overview of what is included in our contribution is as follows:

  • Framing of Private Social Capital and Public Social Capital.
  • The consideration of an implicit assumption in the Discussion Paper.
  • The need for social connections indicators within the Living Standards Framework.
  • The reasons social connectedness indicators should be part of Social Capital.
  • A redefinition of Social Capital.
  • The consideration of what social connectedness indicators be within Social Capital, based on a detailed piece of work by Stats NZ.
  • The importance of an indicator around “not feeling lonely”.
  • Response on the three points where Treasury asked for specific feedback, including twelve important examples of the relation between public policy issues and social connection.

A brief overview of our recommendations are:

  1. There needs to be social connectedness indicators in Social Capital.
  2. The definition of Social Capital be redefined to including Public and Private Social Capital [however, Treasury has subsequently explained how individual wellbeing fits into the Framework – without needing to redefine Social Capital to include Private Social Capital].
  3. One of the social connectedness indicators should be not feeling lonely.
  4. The social connectedness indicators should be the primary measures of Social Capital.
  5. Social Capital be monetised [given the proposal at the time that the other three capitals be monetised].
It is important that our final recommendations, listed above, are read in the context of our full contribution (see Further information), which includes many national and international sourced references. 
[How has the Treasury changed its view following this contribution]
Following the submission, the Treasury released for consultation a report by Conal Smith recommending the indicators in the Livings Standards Dashboard. The report did a great job explaining the complete Living Standards Framework which includes, in addition to the Four Capitals, a (current and future) wellbeing function.  The report proposed that the individual wellbeing function contain social connectedness indicators, including a loneliness indicator. Furthermore, it recommended a general health status indicator, which we had also highlighted is a primary driver of wellbeing.

Feature photo: Loneliness NZ

Loneliness is frequently an early warning sign of mental health issues

Loneliness NZ heart logo
Media Release:  Today Cathy Comber and Dr Spencer Scoular – representing Loneliness NZ – read out a prepared statement to the panel of the Government inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction – at the ‘meet the panel’ session held at Auckland City Hospital.  The statement is shown below.

8 May 2018

Statement – Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction


We represent the recently formed Loneliness New Zealand Charitable Trust.

We believe that conquering loneliness in New Zealand is critical to mental health.  By conquering loneliness all New Zealanders will have a stronger chance to live well, stay well, and get well.

However loneliness is not well understood in our country – it is a very complex issue. Little is known on the depth and breadth of loneliness, and how to address its root causes. Loneliness and its relationship to mental health is sometimes misunderstood. Until now, New Zealand has not had a national focus on loneliness.

We see that it is important to:

  • Give all New Zealanders a focus on conquering loneliness.
  • Support those already experiencing loneliness in their lives.
  • Upskill people in ways to prevent themselves and others becoming lonely.

Key Facts

We would like to highlight some key facts on Loneliness.

  • The lack of social connectedness is a key contributor to the onset of mental health issues.

Mental health clinicians frequently assume that loss of social connectedness is a consequence of mental illness.  However, recent NZ research shows there is a three times stronger relationship that lack of social connectedness is followed a year later by psychological distress; than psychological distress is followed a year later by lack of social connectedness.

In other words, poor social health is a significant cause of poor mental health. The corollary is that good social health provides a preventative measure for mental health – and – poor social health (e.g. loneliness) provides a point of early intervention before more serious mental health issues develop.

  • Loneliness is widespread in New Zealand.

Statistical data shows  that in the last four weeks more than 650,000 Kiwis are likely to have felt lonely.

  • Loneliness is rising rapidly in New Zealand.

Between 2014 and 2016 the number of Kiwis aged 15+ who felt lonely most or all of the time increased by 98,000 (or 70%).

This helps to explain the spike in demand for mental health services.

  • While we are not minimizing the critical importance of addressing loneliness and social isolation amongst the elderly, loneliness in not simply a senior’s issue.

About 80% of Kiwis aged 15+ who are lonely are under the age of 65.

  • Loneliness is most prevalent in our most vulnerable groups in society.

The highest prevalence (in descending order) are:

disabled, recent immigrants, low income households, unemployed, single parents, rural South Island, seniors aged 75+, adults not in the labour force, and young adults aged 15-24.

Young adults aged 15-24 are the largest lonely age group accounting for almost a quarter (23%) of those who are lonely.

  • We support the Inquiry in building a positive mental wellbeing for all New Zealanders.

Not feeling lonely is statistically one of the four key aspects of wellbeing in New Zealand.

Stats NZ has shown that wellbeing in New Zealand is mostly explained by four social variables:

* enjoying very good general health;

* having at least enough money to meet every day needs;

* having no major problems in the housing where you are living; and

* not feeling lonely in the last four weeks.

Loneliness and Mental Health in New Zealand

  • Loneliness is frequently a common symptom and early warning sign of mental health issues, including depression, paranoia, and suicidal tendencies. The need to address loneliness is an unmet need in New Zealand’s health and response system.
  • By targeting loneliness it is possible to prevent and provide early intervention in mental health issues.
  • Prevention and early treatment of mental health issues avoids more serious and costly treatment and reduces the pressure on specialist services.

Further information

Two of the trustees (Cathy Comber and Dr Spencer Scoular) would be happy to elaborate on this statement, including references, if required.