Reports highlight spike in need for elder abuse services

senior woman with closed eyes holds her hand to her head

Two reports have highlighted a spike in the number of people seeking help for elder abuse.

Community Legal Centres Queensland has released figures showing a 19% increase in reported cases of people aged over 65 seeking legal support.

The figures, which were compiled over a five-year period, show older people reaching out to community legal centres for a range of reasons including financial abuse, psychological abuse, neglect and physical abuse.

A similar report issued by the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit shows a 20% increase in reported cases of abuse from 2014-15 to 2015-16. The report showed that the most common age for people experiencing abuse is 80-84 and that most abusers were 50-54 years of age.  The report also showed that women were twice as likely to be abused as men.

Caxton Legal Centre Director Scott McDougall said the recent spotlight on elder abuse has been a long time coming.

“Caxton first launched its elder abuse program almost twenty years ago and since then demand has grown continuously.

“Public awareness has increased and, thankfully, the stigma relating to elder abuse has begun to diminish.  For many older people though there is still a great hurdle to overcome when seeking help for a crime that a family member, often a son or daughter, has committed against them.”

The National Older Persons Legal Services Network from the National Association of Community Legal Centres recently submitted a response to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into elder abuse. The submission points out the need for adequate resourcing of elder abuse services, stating:

“It has been estimated that the cost of elder abuse to the Australian health system will be in excess of $350 million by 2025[2]. This figure does not consider the costs to other systems, including the legal system…While the Network welcomes the announcement by Attorney-General Brandis of $15 million to develop the National Plan, funding cuts to other services assisting older people experiencing elder abuse, including CLCs, will have a significant impact on the ability of these people to access the legal assistance they need. The importance of these services have been recognised in a range of reviews and inquiries, including for example the landmark 2007 Older People and the Law Report completed by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

However, CLCs are facing a 30% cut nationally from 1 July 2017, which will have a direct impact on the ability of CLCs to provide legal assistance to older people. In light of these issues, the Network suggests that it is important that the ALRC consider and make recommendations about the funding and resources of services (as part of best practice legal responses and access to laws and legal frameworks), including CLCs, that assist people experiencing elder abuse.”