Elder abuse hidden from scrutiny

An estimated 185,000 older Australians experience some form of abuse or neglect each year.* The pandemic has already seen a rise in this number. How much further it will keep climbing depends on the future of the government’s payment schemes.

On Tuesday, 21 July 2020, the Prime Minister announced that JobKeeper and JobSeeker would be extended for six months beyond its September deadline. However, payments will be at lower levels and further restrictions will apply.

While this extension will bring immense relief to many Australians, there is no guarantee that the changes will benefit all sectors and workers who are facing long-term financial stress. The reduction is noticeable and not insignificant, particularly for those who work less than 20 hours a week.

There is also no clear sense that the wider social implications of reducing income support at this time have been fully examined. One social implication that is quietly worsening, yet hidden from scrutiny, is elder abuse.

Better Place Australia is deeply concerned that the pandemic has already hit this vulnerable group hard, and at a time when social isolation is still mandated in Victoria.

Our Elder Abuse Family consultants have observed that many older people are being forced to cope with the stress of isolation and separation from their support networks, especially if they’re living alone. Our consultants have also seen a gradual increase in adult children returning to their parents’ home, which could heighten this stress.

Serge Sardo the CEO of Better Place Australia says, “A growing number of adult children are returning to live with an elderly parent because their own circumstances have changed as a direct result of the pandemic.”

This shift is echoed in an April survey undertaken by the Australian Institute for Family Studies. The survey found that one of the most likely cohorts to report changes in living circumstances due to the pandemic are older parents whose adult children have returned home because they can no longer afford their own housing costs.

When adult children and an elderly parent are forced to live under the same roof with no clear end in sight, tensions can rise significantly and the risk of abuse is higher. There is evidence supporting recent suggestions of a ‘tidal wave’ of elder abuse due to greedy children with ‘inheritance entitlement.’

Between February and the end of March 2020, the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit helpline in Queensland reported an alarming increase in calls around physical and psychological abuse that were directly related to social restrictions. In more than half the cases, the victim and perpetrator were living together.

Better Place Australia has also noted that where parents are well over 65 years old, there is a higher risk of psychological, emotional and psychological abuse and neglect as a direct result of the lockdowns.

At particular risk of psychological and/or financial abuse are single women or parents in their late 70s and older who have an adult child living under the same roof. From the Queensland Elder Abuse prevention service we know that the prevalence of this situation can be as high as 40% of elder abuse victims.

Better Place Australia is urging the government to examine the wider social implications of any decisions relating to income support. Financial pressures on individuals will inevitably also impact other family members – whether they live together or not.

Mr Sardo says, “We’re extremely concerned about the elderly whose adult children see as an ‘easy way out’ of financial hardship. Invariably, those who think this way are likely to bring other complex issues to the parent/child relationship, like psychological abuse.”

Better Place Australia is also calling on for ongoing funding for programs that actively support the safety and wellbeing of older people, wherever they live.

Mr Sardo says, “Recognising the social reality facing the most vulnerable members of the community must be at the forefront of social and economic policies. Government and all parts of the community must recognise and act on elder abuse, especially at this time when the most vulnerable among us are more likely to be hidden, and perpetrators of abuse are able to avoid scrutiny.”

Better Place explores this issue in more detail in its recently released discussion paper.



Media Contact – Graeme Westaway 0438 318 311. Graeme.westaway@betterplace.com.au


Source: National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians (Elder Abuse) 2019–2023, Council of Attorneys-General

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