24 Jun 2020

People on low incomes lonelier during lockdown - report

11:14 am on 24 June 2020

People on low incomes were more likely to suffer high levels of loneliness during lockdown.

Side view portrait of a sad single man looking down from a balcony of a house  with an urban background

Photo: 123RF

The report 'Alone Together', published by the Helen Clark Foundation and consultancy firm WSP. reveals the Covid-19 lockdown exacerbated the risks of loneliness, especially for those who had no work.

The report recommends everyone has access to a guaranteed minimum income, high speed internet and mental health support.

Report author Holly Walker said during level 3, roughly 10 percent of people felt lonely most, or all, of the time.

But that figure rose to 30 percent of people who were already in a low income household and then lost their job or income due to Covid 19, according to survey data from the Victoria University of Wellington.

"Under normal circumstances, about 3.5 percent of the population feel like that so it's a really significant issue for people in that situation, said Walker, deputy director and WSP fellow.

"People attach a lot of identity and sense of self through their work - and also just going to work and interacting with their colleagues ... goes quite a long way to supplying some of the social connection we all need as human beings.

Whether during lockdown or under normal circumstances people living on low incomes were much more likely to feel lonely than the wider population, she said.

"When you live on a very low income you're in a state of toxic stress a lot of the time.

"You're often moving from one problem to another - it's not very easy to get your head above the parapet and think about your wider welfare needs or take the time to socialise or join a club or connect with other people in that way.

"And also you don't have the resources - even transport to get somewhere to see other people.

"And of course you may not have the time, you may be working very hard at several jobs to try to make ends meet."

The report recommends access to a stable secure income, in the form of a guaranteed minimum income.

"Whether you are working or whether you are relying on benefits, or a combination of both ... we should agree as a country a set minimum that we don't what people to drop below. And we should make sure that our benefit and our welfare system is aligned to make it as simple as possible for people so they're not falling below that income."

The government could also support communities and look at the built environment - the streets, neighbourhoods and new social housing development - to find ways to encourage people to stop and spend time together on a daily basis.

The report recommends programmes to retrain workers and help people regain jobs should be extended, the government should boost the new frontline mental health service's funding, and says affordable internet should be considered a basic part of social inclusion.