COTA Queensland response to QLD Parliamentary Inquiry report into social isolation and loneliness
COTA Queensland’s submission for the Queensland Parliamentary Inquiry into Social Isolation and Loneliness outlined several recommendations for the prevention and mitigation of social isolation and loneliness, some of which have been incorporated into the Queensland Parliamentary Report into Social Isolation and Loneliness which was released 6 December 2021.
COTA Queensland strongly supports the sound recommendations presented in the Parliamentary report. However, we also note several areas where further actions could be taken, including:
1. Recognition of causal factors for social isolation and loneliness
The report focused importantly on interventions that assist people who are already experiencing social isolation and loneliness. However, we need to address the underlying economic and social factors and the structural changes required to help prevent social isolation and loneliness e.g., inequities in essential services such as housing and transport may influence potential interventions or impact on peoples’ ability to participate in available supports or initiatives.
The required infrastructure is not always in place to support well-intentioned opportunities for digital inclusion, particularly in regional, rural and remote communities when digital infrastructure may not exist or be working how it should. We need to look at alternatives when people are not able to be online and see how community members find workarounds and how we can learn from their workarounds. This needs to be supported by the latest evidence including annual reports such as the one released by the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) (2021).
2. Recognition of all approaches to tackling social isolation and loneliness (rather than social prescription used as a one-size fits all approach)
Social prescription is emphasised as the main approach in the report. While social prescription model is backed by the latest evidence, and a trend in the international arena, we acknowledge that the very nature of social isolation and loneliness is not a one-size fits all approach. We therefore recommend approaches that respect that social isolation and loneliness are a) two separate phenomena that are b) experienced in unique ways according to the individual and their life circumstances.
We need to build on the evidence through stories and examples of how factors change according to the region and the life circumstances of the individual (e.g., impact of remoteness, climate change, local resources; community acceptance/motivation for initiatives; and socioeconomic factors unique to specific regions).
3. Recognition of Sixty and Better programs in addition to the work of Neighbourhood and Community Centres
Neighbourhood and Community Centres are key spaces for community members, but we must not be confined to only these spaces. We need to be inclusive of other spaces and providers such as the Sixty and Better program based at local community groups/organisations, or for Sixty and Better to become part of Community Centre funding. We must harness, highlight, and promote such initiatives as gauges for (existing) strong supports which work.
We note that social prescription is similar or the same as community referral. We need to formalise an (often) informal process and work out how to establish incentives for health workers who identify those experiencing social isolation and/or loneliness to refer them to community organisations with link workers. We also need to work out how to fund an adequate number of link workers and services to address social isolation and/or loneliness issues.
In the report, there is no mention made of the prior work undertaken including the history of the Sixty and Better Program which has existed for almost 30 years assisting older Queenslanders impacted by social isolation and loneliness. Therefore, there should be sufficient ground to already implement recommendations within a e.g., 12 to 24-month period, rather than a 10-year strategy.
We continue to explore how social isolation and loneliness are impacting older Queenslanders through our Community Engagement Hub. We encourage community members, service providers, and those interested to share their thoughts and insights. These insights will help to inform our ongoing work.