Age Discrimination Commissioner: Australia has a long way to go to end elder abuse

Age Discrimination Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald AM has warned the ongoing cost-of-living crisis is likely to lead to an increased risk of elder abuse with Australia needing to further bolster its efforts to address the nationwide problem.

Elder abuse is when harm is done to an older person by someone they know and trust, often a family member. It can take many forms, including neglect, financial exploitation, physical violence, coercive control, and sexual and psychological abuse.

According to the National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, one in six older Australians experience elder abuse in a given year, but only one in three victims seek help.

Commissioner Fitzgerald said he was concerned by the latest figures from the National Elder Abuse phone line, which recorded 9,085 calls from July 2023 until the end of May 2024 – a 36% jump from the same period the previous year.

“This is a significant increase and a timely wakeup call for all of us this World Elder Abuse Awareness Day that we need to be vigilant,” Commissioner Fitzgerald said.

“While the national helpline figures don’t capture calls made directly to individual state and territory helplines, reasons for the increase could be drawn from what we learn from callers at the state level and frontline elder abuse services.

“This includes a greater awareness of elder abuse, with 15% of older Australians identifying as having been abused, as well as an increased incidence of abuse due to a variety of emerging risk factors. Current economic pressures, including increased housing stress, amid the cost-of-living crisis have the potential to exacerbate the risk of abuse.

“There is also the growing phenomenon of ‘inheritance impatience’, where adult children, frustrated by the longer waits for wealth transfer from parents who are living longer, resort to elder abuse for financial gain.”

Commissioner Fitzgerald has welcomed the development of the second iteration of the National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians, which is due for release this year, but said Australia “has a long way to go” before it can curb elder abuse.

“With the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in Australia expected to take place in the coming decades, urgent reform to Enduring Power of Attorney laws is needed to prevent the financial abuse of older persons and make it easier for people to be educated about their rights and responsibilities under these documents,” he said.

Commissioner Fitzgerald also repeated calls for adult safeguarding laws, which give agencies the power to investigate the abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults to be established in every state and territory, similar to those in NSW, SA and ACT.

“This needs a national safeguarding framework to create consistency across Australia. We also need to do more to tackle the abuse of older persons in First Nations and culturally and linguistically diverse communities. This must start with meaningful engagement with these communities to understand their experiences and concerns,” the Commissioner said.

“Elder abuse is a everyone’s responsibility. Coordinated efforts across all sectors is critically needed to achieve much-needed reform at the national level and better protect the human rights of all older people to be safe and live free from abuse.”

/Public Release. View in full here.