Reducing income support to people of working age increases risk of elder abuse

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.

The recent announcement of JobKeeper and JobSeeker extensions will bring some relief to many Australians however the payment reductions are 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 can 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.”

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 mounting evidence supporting recent suggestions of a ‘tidal wave’ of elder abuse due to greedy children with ‘inheritance entitlement.’

Better Place Australia is also seeing more clients experiencing coercive isolation, psychological, emotional abuse, and an elevation of physical abuse as a direct result of the lockdowns. At particular risk of elder abuse are single women in their late 70s and older parents who have an adult child living under the same roof.

Better Place Australia is urging the government to examine the wider social implications of any decisions relating to income support. The risk of further escalating abuse ‘behind closed doors’ must be at the forefront of both social policy and economic policy. In addition, the banks have a key role in consistently identifying suspicious transactions on the accounts of vulnerable older people and working proactively to support people where this is evidence of financial abuse.

Mr Sardo says, “We’re extremely concerned about the elderly whose adult children see them 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 and physical abuse.”

Better Place Australia is also calling for an increase in 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.


Serge Sardo is available for interview on 0439 578 277. Media Contact – Graeme Westaway 0438 318 311.

Serge Sardo is the CEO of Better Place Australia. He is the former CEO at the Responsible Gambling Foundation. Better Place Australia is a charity that has been providing Financial
Counselling, Family Support & Psychological services for over thirty years. We employ a team of elder abuse family consultants who work across greater Melbourne and regional Victoria. From 27 locations, Better Place Australia supports over 10,000 clients every year.

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